Weighing in

Advocates: Four traits we want in NYC’s next schools chief — and four candidates we don’t want

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña is preparing to step down in the coming weeks.

With a transition in New York City’s education leadership imminent, insiders are jockeying to make sure their perspectives are taken into account.

We received a letter from two advocates who say they want the city’s next chancellor to be a lot like the outgoing one, Carmen Fariña. David Kirkland, the executive director of NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, and Natasha Capers, the coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Justice, say they want Mayor Bill de Blasio to pick someone who, like Fariña, would bring experience, commitment, a belief in collaboration, and a focus on equity.

But they’re asking for more: Capers, a harsh critic of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education agenda who was often allied with the education department under Fariña, has more recently pushed for more transparency from the de Blasio administration and called for the city to do more to encourage culturally responsive teaching. The letter says the next chancellor needs to tackle this issue more than Fariña has. (The letter does not mention racial segregation, an issue that Kirkland focuses on as a member of the city’s new school diversity advisory group and leader of a resource center meant to support activists, officials, and school administrators focused on school integration.)

Capers and Kirkland also draw a line in the sand for the kind of chancellor they couldn’t support: one with any association with the Broad Academy, a leadership program for school administrators with ties to the school reform movement that Bloomberg’s education policies exemplified.

The full letter is below. The chancellor search could be heading into its final stretch, if Fariña’s farewell tour is any indication — or not. City Hall has been tight-lipped about where the search to replace her stands.

When Mayor Bill de Blasio chose Carmen Fariña as Chancellor four years ago, parents and advocates were excited to have an experienced educator and former public school parent in leadership. This has meant an increased focus on teaching and learning, stronger supports for struggling schools, and an emphasis on educating the whole child through arts, physical education, language and more.

The choice of Chancellor Fariña’s successor is crucial. De Blasio represents a marked departure from the Bloomberg market-based approach to schooling that used testing to grade and punish schools, and saw parents and communities as nuisances. De Blasio has prioritized reforms that support quality teaching and whole child development. This includes universal full-day pre-K, community schools with social and emotional supports for students, arts and physical education, and moving from punitive to positive discipline policies. But to date Mayor de Blasio’s reforms have not gone far enough. The success or failure of his next Chancellor will determine the Mayor’s legacy and whether or not his reforms, beyond pre-K, survive his tenure.

Four key traits are necessary for the next Chancellor: Commitment, Experience, Equity, and Collaboration.

Commitment: Chancellor Fariña has demonstrated a strong commitment to public education as a public good. The next Chancellor must also be deeply committed to keeping public schools public and accessible to all students, and not undermining access through the illusion of choice and privatization.

Experience: As was the case with Chancellor Fariña, the next Chancellor must be an experienced educator with a track record of leading a large urban school districts, and have specific experience and knowledge of the New York City school system—which is by far the nation’s largest and most complex.

Equity: The next Chancellor must be driven by a deep commitment to eliminate the opportunity gap based on race, ethnicity, gender, language and ability, and improve education for historically oppressed populations. This includes a commitment to culturally responsive education which to date the de Blasio administration has failed to adequately embrace.

Collaboration: The Chancellor should have a track record of working in partnership with parents, students, educators and community organizations; building and sustaining partnerships between the district and the community; and addressing problems by bringing multiple stakeholders together to devise solutions. The Mayor’s critically important signature reform of Renewal Schools and community schools has suffered as the Department of Education has struggled with genuine collaboration among families, schools, district staff, central DOE, and community partners, and at providing the efficient supports and leadership needed to help these schools succeed.

To meet these criteria, the Mayor will have to stay away from the crew of Broad-trained administrators who represent the brand of “education reform” that de Blasio ran against. Those include John White, Superintendent of Louisiana; Paymon Rouhanifard, Superintendent of Camden, NJ; Kaya Henderson, former Chancellor of DC Public Schools; and Jaime Aquino, a former Deputy Superintendent in Los Angeles who was involved with a conflict-of-interest scandal regarding purchase of iPads.

De Blasio has moved in the right direction on education, but he has had neither the boldness nor the focus our families expect from the Mayor. He must be certain that the next Chancellor shares the vision of reform that is based on supporting students and providing equity, but the next Chancellor must also have the experience and commitment needed to navigate the complexity of our massive school system and the skills at collaborating with families and communities needed to succeed.

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.”

D.C.

What you should know about the White House’s proposal to merge the education department into a new agency

PHOTO: Gabriel Scarlett/The Denver Post

The White House is proposing the federal education department merge with the labor department to form the Department of Education and the Workforce, officials announced Thursday.

It’s an eye-catching plan, given how relatively rare changes to the Cabinet are and the current prominence of Betsy DeVos, the current head of the education department who has proven deeply unpopular with educators since her confirmation hearings last year. Education Week first reported the proposed merger on Wednesday.

Here’s what we know so far about what’s going on and why it matters.

The news

The Trump administration announced a big-picture government reorganization Thursday, and the education-labor merger is one part of that.

The new department will have four main sub-agencies: K-12; higher education and workforce development; enforcement; and research, evaluation and administration.

It comes after DeVos proposed acquiring programs from the labor department that have to do with educational programs for unemployed adult workers, reintegrating ex-prisoners, and “out-of-school” youth, according to the New York Times.

The two departments already work together on some adult education and vocational training programs, according to the the Wall Street Journal. In an interview with the Associated Press, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that there are currently 40 different job training programs spread over 16 agencies. This merger would be one attempt to change that.

DeVos said she supports the plan.

“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools. I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality,” DeVos said in a statement.

The implications for K-12 education

Today, the department distributes K-12 education money and enforces civil rights laws. It’s small for a federal agency, at 3,900 employees. On a symbolic level, a merged department would be de-emphasizing education.

The existing set of offices overseeing K-12 education would move into the new agency, according to the document, which says those offices will be “improved” but not how.

The education department’s Office of Civil Rights will become a part of the new department’s “enforcement” sub-agency.

The plan doesn’t mention any cuts to the agency or its offices, though Secretary DeVos has proposed cuts in the past.

Why this might not happen

The proposal would require congressional approval, which will likely be a difficult battle. Past attempts to eliminate the Department of Education in the 1980s and 1990s didn’t gain any traction, and both lawmakers and unions have expressed skepticism toward the new plan.

Sen. Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and education committee, quickly put out a statement criticizing the plan.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers — and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves,” she said