principles of survival

City's Leadership Academy looks beyond the five boroughs

Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 4.52.41 PM
Administrators from Greece Central School District this week during a training session facilitated by the NYC Leadership Academy. Since 2009, the academy has expanded nationally as opportunities in New York City shrank. (Credit: GCSD Twitter)

With its annual class of local principals-to-be shrinking, the New York City Leadership Academy is turning its services away from the five boroughs.

Just 28 students graduated from the Academy last year, down from 75 in the 2006-2007 school year, according to city records. Of those, just 19 were initially hired as principals, the records show.

The academy now works with other districts in New York and across the country , as well as with the state education department here, to help them design principal training programs of their own. In recent years, it has contracted with 24 states and annual revenue from national initiatives has tripled to nearly $1 million, according to the academy’s most recently available tax filings.

“We’ve developed into a national organization,” Irma Zardoya, the academy’s CEO since 2011, said in an interview last week.

The organization’s restructuring comes amid a slump in demand from the city’s Department of Education, which has developed its own program in house, and growth in demand outside of the city from districts without an infrastructure to develop leaders.

The academy launched in 2003 with $15 million in private start-up grants as a signature initiative by then-Chancellor Joel Klein. Klein sought to infuse the city school system with corporate values that emphasized strong leadership, autonomy, and accountability, and the program quickly became the department’s favored training pipeline, eventually accounting for 15 percent of the city’s principals.

The program accepted promising candidates and trained them intensively over 14 months to immediately take over as principals — or in Klein’s words, CEOs — of their schools. The approach at times drew fire from teachers and parents who complained of principals who graduated from the program having oppressive managerial styles.

When the grants ran out in 2009, the city picked up part of the tab, awarding the academy contracts that have paid out $27 million over the last four years, according to the city comptroller’s office. That year, the contract represented 70 percent of the organization’s $9.6 million in revenues, tax filings show.

But its graduate haul diminished significantly in the last several years, from 56 to 2010 to 28 last year. Zardoya said next year’s cohort totals around 20. Much of the academy’s work now centers on coaching about 150 principals annually who are currently working in schools.

Zardoya’s organization is also tasked with helping the city recruit for its own training program, called Leadership in Education Apprenticeship Program, a one-year program that accepts experienced teachers and trains them with help from their current principals. In 2012, LEAP graduated 68 people, 25 of whom were hired as principals, according to the Independent Budget Office.

(A third alternative pathway to becoming a principal, New Leaders, graduated eight in 2011-2012, down from 28 in 2009-2010. Twenty-two percent of all city principals last year graduated from one of the city’s three alternative pathways, according to the IBO.)

Meanwhile, there has been a surge in demand around the country in response to higher priorities to provide better teacher and principal training. It is one of the central reforms of the Race to the Top grants and winning states have increasingly look to outside vendors for help figuring out what that looks like.

The New York State Education Department has worked with the Academy to develop a program in Rochester. Private grants funded a partnership with Buffalo to develop a similar program, though Buffalo later discontinued it after district administrators misused the funds.

More recently, the Academy was picked by Greece Central School District as part of a $1.5 million state grant funded with Race to the Top dollars. The academy was tasked with developing a leadership training curriculum, which the district is using to train 85 administrators and teacher leaders this month, said Greece Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams.

“It’s not a packaged approach,” Deane-Williams said of the academy’s curriculum. “They actually looked at where we wanted to go as a district and customized to what we’re trying to do.”

The academy still has a presence training educators in New York City and last week Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited one of its programs, the New Principals Institute, which supports first-year principals. At the event, the rookie principals took a break to share concerns they had for the new job.

“My biggest fear is that in Bushwick, we won’t be that beacon of hope that those kids need,” said Kyleema Norman, who became principal of the Academy of Urban Planning this winter. “That whatever it is that those children need right now, that we won’t do that, and we’ll lose a kid.”

Walcott, Klein’s successor who has been a staunch defender of the Bloomberg administration’s policies, including the NYC Leadership Academy, shared some of his own advice based on personal experience.

“You will never satisfy everyone, you may not even satisfy anyone, but at the same time, knowing the implications of your decision-making is always extremely important,” Walcott said. “So even if you piss off the entire world, as long as you have your decision-making factors in place that you’re satisfied with, and you feel, and the people surrounding you feel, it will have a benefit to the system, to your school, then you have to be comfortable with that.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of years of teaching experience required for participants to be admitted to the Academy. Since its inception in 2003, applicants have need a minimum number of three years of teaching.

 Anika Anand contributed reporting.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede