New York

A DOE plan to personalize bureaucracy is making unions nervous

nadelstern
Eric Nadelstern heads the Children's First Network, which is set to expand. (Via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/emilyshu/2980136053/##Cody Castro##)

In a quiet project that has union activists gritting their teeth with concern, the Department of Education is once again moving to reshape its own bureaucracy — this time by offering about 300 schools the option to transform the way they manage basic back-office tasks, from busing to budget planning to monitoring medical vaccinations.

The change, which principals are learning about this month and which is set to begin in September, would be the third time these schools have transformed the way they work with the system bureaucracy since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools in 2002.

The way operational services are handled has already changed several times since 2002. When Bloomberg first took office, 32 individual district offices — plus separate offices for high schools, alternative schools, and special education schools — managed school operations. Those were replaced by six offices serving 10 regions after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s first reorganization of the school system, and then by a single Integrated Service Center, with five borough branches, after Klein revised the structure again in 2006. During the 2006 reorganization, instructional services were also relocated, to a group of nine support organizations from which principals now choose one.

The new format would further personalize services by expanding a model that’s been quietly piloted for the last two years under the name of the Children First Network. Rather than leaning on the imposing ISC for help writing their budgets and managing paperwork-heavy responsibilities like special education, the 90 schools in the Children First Network bypass the ISC altogether. Instead, each group of about 20 schools — the configuration known in all of the citywide support organizations as a “network” — works with a team of 13 staff members who do the same tasks performed by the ISC, but on a smaller scale.

Because these staff members focus only on the 20 schools they are assigned to, principals in the program say they are less like bureaucrats and more like partners. “I know these people really, really well. They’re not some faceless bureaucrat sitting halfway across the city that I only know through e-mail and phone calls,” said a principal in the pilot phase of the network, Michael Soet of Brooklyn’s International High School. “These are people that I really know well.”

The close attention means principals can free themselves of much of the business of running a school day to day and focus instead on the business of educating their students. Before she joined CFN, Marisol Bradbury, principal at Bedford Stuyvesant Preparatory High School, said she spent hours managing tasks unrelated to instruction. “You would have to call one person, then call someone else, and then send that person to a different office, and then that person would have to communicate with someone else,” she said. “With CFN, it’s been such a better way of living.”

Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern, who launched CFN when he headed the system’s empowerment schools program and is continuing to manage it, said the satisfaction has translated into better schools. Ratings of all the school system’s roughly 70 networks of schools indicate that the first network to join CFN has risen from about the middle of the pack to the No. 1 network in the city, Nadelstern said. He said the ratings, which are based on student test scores, graduation rates, and other measures included on the school progress reports, will become public in the next few months.

The ratings are one reason Nadelstern and Klein decided to expand the pilot, which in the first two years included just four networks and was funded by a private grant from the NewSchools Venture Fund. Starting next fall, the department will open CFN up to as many as 20 networks, an expansion that could bring more than 350 schools into the program.

While Nadelstern focuses on the instructional advantages he hopes will come out of the expansion, the news of the change has created something of a frenzy among some who worry it will cause confusion of the sort that accompanied previous reorganizations of the school system’s bureaucracy — and at the worst possible time, during a budget crisis. A teachers union source who is familiar with the plan pointed out that the expansion would mean moving as many as 128 administrative staff from the ISC to networks. He said that kind of change looks unmistakably like a third reorganization of the school system. “I don’t know how else you can look at it, because you’re going to be shifting support people across the city of New York,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations are still underway with school officials.

Though the DOE has insisted the project won’t carry any new costs, and that it could even save money over time, the principals union is not yet convinced. “There is a certain amount of automatic suspicion because the DOE has spent a lot of money over time,” said Chiara Coletti, the union’s communications director. “We want them to demonstrate to us why it is cost neutral.”

Nadelstern and department officials insist that the change is not a reorganization, but rather an expansion of options. Principals already choose which instructional support system they’d like from a menu of options; now, Nadelstern says, they can also choose how they’d like to have their back-office needs supported. “Choice and competition have proven effective on the instructional side of the equation,” Nadelstern said. “We think it’s going to prove equally effective on the operational side.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.