big plans

Thompson: Let mayor keep school control, but limit his options

Comptroller Bill Thompson. (Via Azi's Flickr)
Comptroller Bill Thompson. (Via ##http://flickr.com/photos/azipaybarah/2376506857/##Azi’s Flickr##.)

As the debate over mayoral control mounted this winter, Comptroller William Thompson, himself a mayoral hopeful, conspicuously did not address the essential question of whether the mayor should control a majority of members on the city school board. Today, Thompson revealed his position: The mayor should appoint every board member — but he shouldn’t have unlimited choice.

Instead, according to a plan that Thompson outlined before Assembly members at a hearing on school governance in Brooklyn this morning, the mayor should select board members for two-year-long terms from a slate of candidates put forth by a 19-member “nominating committee” representing a diverse set of interests. Under the plan, the committee would be composed of

  • Five members appointed by the Mayor;
  • One member apiece appointed by Borough Presidents;
  • Four parent members chosen by the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council;
  • A teacher selected by the United Federation of Teachers;
  • A principal chosen by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators;
  • A college or university president selected by the New York State Education Commissioner;
  • A member of the business community appointed by an organized business entity selected by the Mayor; and
  • An education school faculty member selected by the college or university president member

In a statement, Thompson said the arrangement would allow the mayor to set education policy but would ensure that the perspectives of parents, teachers, and education experts are included in the decision-making process. A chief complaint of Mayor Bloomberg’s control over the schools since 2002 is that those constituencies have been ignored.

The man most considered most likely to join Thompson in the mayor’s race (other than Bloomberg himself), Rep. Anthony Weiner, has said he supports “unfettered” mayoral control, with the mayor continuing to control most seats on the city school board.

Thompson’s full statement, which includes his proposals for strengthening parent involvement and monitoring education department data, is below the jump.

THOMPSON UNVEILS PLAN TO IMPROVE MAYORAL CONTROL OF NEW YORK CITY SCHOOL SYSTEM 

Thompson plan establishes stronger educational board, improves parent input, and calls for independent audit of test scores and graduation rates

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. today unveiled a proposal to improve accountability and transparency in the New York City Department of Education by establishing a committee to appoint a stronger educational board and increase involvement of parents in the education of their children.

“As we look ahead to the sunset of mayoral control, we should reauthorize the law, but we must strengthen it and do a better job of enforcing its existing provisions,” Thompson said in testimony before the New York State Assembly Education Committee in Brooklyn. “With an enormous stake in their children’s educational success, parents must have a true voice in the decisions that impact their children’s schools…It is time to put the ‘public’ back in public education.”

You can view the Comptroller’s testimony at www.comptroller.nyc.gov. This was the second time Thompson testified before the Committee on mayoral control. The Comptroller testified at a February 6 hearing, expressing his support for mayoral control but sharply criticizing the Mayor and Schools Chancellor for shutting out parents and allowing no-bid contracts to balloon.

At today’s testimony, the Comptroller proposed that the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) current Panel for Education Policy (PEP) be replaced with a 9-member school board appointed by the Mayor from a pool of nominees recommended by a nominating committee comprised of a cross-section of New Yorkers committed to student success. The board would serve fixed, two-year terms, be responsible for all matters of policy and serve as an appeal board for certain actions of the Chancellor.

Additionally, Thompson proposed that the nominating committee have 19 members, consisting of:

  •        Five members appointed by the Mayor;
  •        One member apiece appointed by Borough Presidents;
  •        Four parent members chosen by the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council;
  •        A teacher selected by the United Federation of Teachers;
  •        A principal chosen by the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators;
  •        A college or university president selected by the New York State Education Commissioner;
  •        A member of the business community appointed by an organized business entity selected by the Mayor; and,
  •        An education school faculty member selected by the college or university president member.

Accordingly, the committee would nominate three candidates for each of the nine positions on the board – to be chosen by the Mayor. At least four of the nine must have a professional background in education, finance or business management.

“Under this system, based on models from Boston and Cleveland, the Mayor would continue to appoint the Chancellor,” Thompson said. “The mayor and the Chancellor would also continue to exercise broad authority to direct policy, with the difference that – unlike the current system – voices representing students, parents and individuals with a wide range of education expertise will have a means to be heard.”

Thompson concluded his testimony in noting that he and others are calling not for an end to mayoral control, “but a commitment to making it more transparent, more accountable, and more inclusive.” Thompson added: “We must commit ourselves to the goal that every child entering the New York City school system is given the best opportunity to walk out of high school prepared for college and ready to take his or her place in the new economy of the 21st century.”

Additionally, the Comptroller unveiled other proposals to improve mayoral control:

School Leadership Teams

Thompson recommended amending State Education Law to specifically state that District Superintendents’ annual evaluations of principals consider a principal’s record in developing an effective, collaborative School Leadership Team. “There must be a meaningful effort by principals to engage parents, not just lip service,” Thompson said.

Community Education Councils

The DOE routinely ignores existing statutes governing Community Education Councils (CEC), rarely consulting them before schools open or close and not involving them in developing district report cards. The DOE has narrowly interpreted the Councils’ statutory role in school zoning, denying them a voice in program offerings in their districts and schools. Thompson said the law should clarify the Councils’ role in school zoning to ensure that they have a voice in deciding what programs are offered.

Additionally, Thompson noted that 9 of the 11 voting members of the CEC must be a parent of a child attending a school in the district and is selected by the President and Officers of a Parent Association (PA) of Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). Thompson instead proposed that all PA and PTA leaders in a district meet and select from their members the nine to sit on the CEC.

District Family Advocates

Thompson noted that many District Superintendents spend a substantial amount of time outside of their home districts, which takes them away from reviewing school budgets, evaluating principals and assisting parents. As Superintendents have been pulled away from their role in assisting parents, the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy has tried inadequately to fill the gap. There currently are at most only two Family Advocates per district, and many districts only have one.

Said Thompson: “Because they report to Tweed rather than the District Superintendent, their ability to resolve parent concerns is limited.  Families currently have no place to go for effective help other than the principal – or Tweed. For that reason, I believe that the District Family Advocates should be reassigned to report to the Superintendent.”

Testing

Thompson called for an independent body to audit test scores and graduation rates. He said that concerns over data manipulation have arisen over the Department’s trumpeted gains in test scores and improvements in graduation rates. “If the public is to trust the City’s claims of gains, we must remove both the incentive and the opportunity to manipulate results,” the Comptroller said.

“This goes to the heart of the educational mission to give our young people the skills they need – and the city needs – to compete in the new century,” said Thompson.

Thompson noted that the DOE’s budget nearly doubled – from $12.5 billion to $21 billion – since the mayoral control law was passed. “A lack of improved achievement to align with increased resources,” he said, “threatens not only our students’ future, but the very future of our city.” 

Procurement

In earlier testimony, Thompson faulted the DOE for avoiding fair and open competition in the awarding of City contracts, noting the soaring rate of non-competitively bid contracts. Thompson said the DOE has executed millions of dollars in contracts forged outside of the competitive bidding process.

“With its top-down approach, the current administration has sought to avoid debate and public scrutiny, while fundamental decisions regarding education reform have been made by executives with no education background,” Thompson said.

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.