Pomp and Circumstance

City's top high school grads more likely to be female

The city’s list of graduation speakers this year includes Obama advisor David Axelrod (Stuyvesant High School), singer Mary J. Blige (Women’s Academy of Excellence), and news anchor Katie Couric (Edward R. Murrow High School).

But the most interesting information comes at the very end of the list, where Department of Education officials have included some information on this year’s high school valedictorians:

Additionally, the Department of Education for the first time collected data about the valedictorians at the City’s public high schools. Of the 339 valedictorians, 63 percent are female, 49 percent speak languages other than English at home, and 66 percent are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals


Writers, entertainers, business leaders, politicians, and government officials this month are coming to New York City’s public schools to congratulate and offer words of wisdom to the graduates of 2010.

Graduation keynote speakers this year include:

White House Special Advisor David Axelrod, Stuyvesant High School, June 24

U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns, PROGRESS High School and Science Skills Center High School for Science, Technology and the Creative Arts, both on June 28

Mary J. Blige, recording artist, Women’s Academy of Excellence, June 28

Leonard Lauder, chairman of the Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. and Gene Weingarten, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post, Bronx High School of Science, June 21

Katie Couric, CBS News anchor, Edward R. Murrow High School, June 24

Darnell Martin, director and screenwriter, A. Philip Randolph High School, June 25

Lynn Nottage, Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright, La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, June 25

Anthony Ponturo, Broadway producer of “Hair” and “Memphis,” Talented Unlimited High School, June 25

Chancellor Joel I. Klein, IS 228 in Brooklyn, June 22; Williamsburg Preparatory High School, June 23; Newcomers High School, June 24; and New Dorp High School, June 25.

Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott, Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, June 21; District 79’s GED Plus, June 23; and High School of Art and Design, June 25.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, June 24

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety, June 24

Jon Sands, poet, Bronx Academy of Letters, June 25

Dr. Irwin Shapiro, award-winning Harvard University professor of astrophysics, Brooklyn Technical High School, June 24

Curtis Sliwa, radio talk show host, Concord High School, June 28

Ingrid Hoffman, Food Network host, Food and Finance High School, June 24

Daisy Martinez, Food Network host, High School for Media and Communications, June 25

MTA Chairman Jay Walder, Abraham Lincoln High School, June 28

Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez, Millennium Art Academy, June 26

Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras, School of Performing Arts at PS 315 in Brooklyn, June 21; JHS 13 Jackie Robinson, June 24; International School for Liberal Arts, June 24; The High School for Contemporary Arts, June 25; Gregorio Luperon High School, June 25; and Roberto Clemente Intermediate School, June 25

Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, Bronx Lab School, June 28

New York University Professor Dr. Petro Noguera, Bayard Rustin Educational Complex, June 25

Steven Cohen, general manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones, High School of Sports Management, June 24

Rev. Calvin O. ButtsIII, Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, June 24

Art McFarland, Channel 7 education reporter, Francis Lewis High School, June 21

City Council Education Committee Chairman Robert Jackson , The Mott Hall School, June 25

Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, Secondary School for Law, June 24

NYC Comptroller John C. Liu, Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, June 28

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Queens Vocational and Technical High School, June 25

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, South Shore High School, June 25

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., In-Tech Academy, June 23; Fordham Leadership Academy for Business  and Technology, June 24; and Frederick Douglass Academy III Secondary School, June 29.

Additionally, the Department of Education for the first time collected data about the valedictorians at the City’s public high schools. Of the 339 valedictorians, 63 percent are female, 49 percent speak languages other than English at home, and 66 percent are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”