Chancellor Carmen Fariña made a lot of promises at a City Council hearing on Thursday — and revealed a few of the Department of Education’s next priorities in the process.
Here are a some changes (and potential changes) she mentioned in nearly three hours of testimony, including new co-location peacemakers and new incentives for arts education:
Department of Education peace brokers will try to ease co-location tensions: Fariña said she will be sending neutral “campus squads” to help hash out space divisions in buildings that house more than one school.
A four-person team of department officials has already been in a handful of schools solving those kinds of problems, spokesman Devon Puglia said. The “squad” won’t be sent to every new co-location, but will help solve problems as they arise.
The network structure for school support is still being rethought: When the council’s education committee chair Daniel Dromm questioned whether networks can be held accountable for improving schools when they depend on principals to select them again every year, Fariña indicated that she agreed the structure was problematic.
“I think you’re thinking the right way,” Fariña said with a smile. In response to a different question about networks, she said that the city expects “to be able to make some decisions in the coming months.”
Fariña has faced questions for months about how she will amend the current structure for school support, which relies on multi-borough networks that principals choose and local district superintendents who evaluate principals. So far, she’s hinted at new powers for superintendents but has yet to offer a broad vision.
“Everything about the structure is being looked at,” she said.
Arts and dual-language programs are getting boosts: Fariña mentioned that the city will be moving to create more new programs inside of existing schools, especially dual-language programs, rather than opening large numbers of new, small schools—which often came with big start-up costs.
The city is also trying to reemphasize the arts by inserting a new question into school quality reviews about available arts instruction, Fariña said. That is to remind principals that “This is something that you need to keep on your mind when you’re scheduling your school and setting your budget,” Fariña said.
Advocacy groups have long called for arts education to be included in school accountability metrics. During the Bloomberg administration, schools were no longer required to spend a specific piece of their budgets on the arts, limiting funding along with broader budget cuts during the recession.
Fariña wants some evaluation changes: The chancellor told council members that she would have details about a rethinking of teacher evaluations in a few weeks, but offered no other specifics. (The city’s ability to make significant changes to the evaluation policy is limited.)
“Certainly as a former teacher and principal, I have many strong opinions on this topic,” she said.
Guidance counselors are a new priority: Fariña said she wants to see more guidance counselors in city schools. The city has seen a substantial drop in their numbers, she noted, and most are tied up working with students with disabilities whose federally mandated education plans require counselor meetings.
Fariña also connected the need for more guidance counselors with her desire to better retain teachers.
“I believe guidance counselors who are well trained can also help teachers survive their first, second, and third years, which are really crucial years,” Fariña said.