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Fernandez, Principals Agree To Abolish 'Building Tenure'

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Joseph A. Fernandez, chancellor of the New York City schools, last week gained a tool that his predecessors have been denied for 15 years: the right to transfer principals who are not performing up to par.

Under a three-page memo of understanding negotiated with the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, which represents the district's principals, the principals' current contract will be amended to eliminate so-called "building tenure."

The changes will not take effect until the chancellor and the c.s.a. negotiate a set of professional standards that principals must meet to retain their current posts.

But the agreement marks major progress on one of Mr. Fernandez's top early priorities. Upon arriving in New York earlier this year, he had turned up the heat in a long-running debate over building tenure for principals, declaring that an inability to transfer principals would seriously hamper his efforts to improve the system.

Averts Unilateral Action

The negotiated agreement headed off an intense lobbying campaign directed at convincing legislators to unilaterally impose changes in a 1974 state law that also grants the city's principals protection from involuntary transfers.

"The bottom line is that the agreement is good for us, it's good for the chancellor, and it's good for the kids of New York City," said Neil Lefkowitz, director of field operations for the c.s.a.

The agreement states that the chancellor will be allowed to refer principals who do not meet the negotiated standards to "professional-development centers" that also must be created before the agreement becomes effective.

"Conceptually," the agreement says, "the centers will have a range of specialized programs, not only for supervisors and administrators, but also for teachers, parents, and support people, which will allow people to increase skills and abilities and provide effective career ladders for participants."

Principals who meet improvement goals during their time at the centers could be reassigned by the chancellor to their original schools, or, in some cases, to new schools within their community districts or boroughs.

Those who do not demonstrate sufficient progress may be brought up on charges leading to dismissal.

"The agreement is not for the incompetent principals, who we feel should be brought up on charges," said Mr. Lefkowitz. "It deals with the person who is mediocre, who is not reaching the criteria."

The city's board of education is also considering changing the process for selecting principals.

Union Opposes Proposal

Currently, district officials are required to seek input from parents before selecting a new principal. The leading proposal under consideration, which is opposed by the csa, would specify that teachers also be included in the process.

Mr. Fernandez also recently asked businesses to join the school system in setting up a network of elementary schools in city office buildings.

The proposed "satellite learning centers" would be funded jointly by the board of education and host companies, and are similar to those Mr. Fernandez initated while he was superintendent of the Dade County, Fla., public schools.--ws & dc

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