A flagship office at the Department of Education is being reshuffled for a second time in five months amid a slew of high-ranking resignations, including one from an official who was hand-picked to lead some of Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s top priorities.
Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg announced three more planned departures today, meaning that five of the seven people he initially picked to lead the newly reconstituted Division of Teaching and Learning in January are no longer at the department or will be leaving soon.
The departures come as Weinberg revealed major changes to the division, which he said would allow its work to reflect Fariña’s vision for school improvement and his own. In an internal memo that Weinberg sent to staff on Thursday — in the middle of Fariña’s two-week trip to Spain — he said the department would consolidate several offices and that the officials in charge of teacher evaluation and accountability are leaving as part of the reorganization.
Those officials — Joanna Cannon and Emily Weiss — had previously worked in the Bloomberg administration. Two other Bloomberg holdovers, Rachel Feinberg and Jocelyn Alter, who had operations jobs, left earlier this year.
But one seasoned administrator who is leaving, Doug Knecht, was brought on expressly to oversee central parts of the Fariña administration’s agenda, including middle school improvement efforts and school collaboration.
“That might be a sign of problems on the inside because that’s not usual,” said Joseph Viteritti, who has worked with district chiefs during transitions and who previously downplayed earlier reports of turnover as natural.
Knecht declined to comment on his pending departure. Cannon and Weiss did not respond to emails seeking comment.
But current and former officials, none of whom would speak on the record because they did not want to jeopardize their relationships with the administration, cited a variety of reasons for the managerial turnover, which was recently pegged at around 100. Some said Bloomberg veterans who intended to stay, particularly those with little teaching experience, felt shunned because of their work in the previous administration. Many said morale had declined after months without hearing a comprehensive vision from Fariña, even as she rolled out some key initiatives.
“One thing you can say about [former Chancellor Joel] Klein and Bloomberg, and I’ve been very critical of them, is that they had a clear agenda,” Viteritti said. “People want to see that. Otherwise you might just start to think of yourself as a bureaucrat.”
In an interview, Weinberg, a former principal who joined the administration in January, said his office’s direction would come into a clearer focus with the latest reshuffling. He laid out a vision in his memo to staff on Thursday in a four-tiered summary, stressing that student achievement needed to be driven by a joint effort from teachers, students, a school community, and central administrators.
Weinberg also outlined two structural changes that together would steer the department away from the accountability emphasis that characterized the Bloomberg administration.
First, he said he is merging the work of three offices into a single unit to “ensure our qualitative and quantitative work around evaluating schools can be fully integrated.” The new unit, called “Citywide Model Development,” will be headed by Alice Brown, a former network leader, and Carolyn Yaffe, who founded the Academy for Young Writers, a small high school in Brooklyn.
And the city’s implementation of teacher evaluations, which is entering its second year, will move into the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development under Anna Commitante, who joined the division’s leadership the same day as Weinberg. Weinberg said the change was meant to merge “teacher evaluation” and “teacher development,” or efforts to help teachers improve.
Of the turnover, Weinberg told Chalkbeat that he would focus on the people who remained at the department.
“We’re very proud of the work we’re doing,” Weinberg said. “There are tremendous people who are working at the Department of Education. I feel really lucky that there are so many people who can work alongside us as we move forward.”
Dear colleagues, Thank you for your tireless work on behalf of New York City’s students. I continue to be inspired by your unwavering dedication to the work of our division. I am writing to share changes I am planning for the future of the Division of Teaching and Learning. I am confident these changes will enable us to fulfill an instructional vision I have summarized below:
- Students must learn to think for themselves since that is the only way they will be able to make real choices about how to live their lives.
- Teachers need to create the conditions that privilege questions over answers as the focus of learning in our classrooms.
- Schools should see their work as a community enterprise. An individual teacher’s efforts will make a difference, but a community working together can change many more lives.
- As a central office, we must support school communities and illuminate a path forward by building a school system that is safe, critical, and committed to improvement.
In tandem with Chancellor Fariña’s Four Pillars, I believe our vision will help ensure that all students graduate ready for success in college and meaningful careers, and that we continue to champion high-quality instruction across each and every New York City classroom. I look forward to refining this vision with you. And, in the coming days and weeks, we will re-organize our division to further strengthen the excellent work happening in DT&L. The re-organization will be evident in several ways:
- The work of Citywide Model Development is changing. A new team comprised of the Performance team, the Office of School Quality, and the Office of Research and Data (from Talent Initiatives) will merge under the leadership of Alice Brown, with Carolyn Yaffe as her deputy. This will ensure that our qualitative and quantitative work around evaluating schools can be fully integrated. Christina Fuentes will continue to lead the Office of Inter-School Collaborative Learning and Vanda Belusic-Vollor will continue to lead the Office of Post-Secondary Readiness. Alice, Christina, and Vanda will be joining my leadership team to continue their innovative and exciting work.
- Additional work from Talent Initiatives will be shared across multiple offices including the Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development led by Anna Commitante to encourage coherence in our instructional work and the work of teacher effectiveness, formative assessment, and measures of student learning.
- My support team will grow and take on additional responsibilities focusing on teacher development and evaluation policy, the citywide instructional expectations, culture and coherence, and knowledge sharing.
Along with these changes, Joanna Cannon, Doug Knecht and Emily Weiss will be leaving the Department of Education to pursue new opportunities. I thank them for their leadership and excellent work in support of NYC schools. Marina Cofield, Senior Executive Director of the Office of Leadership, Dan Aymar-Blair, Senior Executive Director of the Office of Implementation, and Anna Commitante, Senior Executive Director of the Office of Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development, will continue to lead their respective teams. I have great confidence in the talent and dedication of each and every member of our division; I want to assure you that you are valued and that I know your contributions are essential to our shared success. I am thrilled and privileged to work alongside you. Sincerely, Phil