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Published in Print: November 18, 1998, as Governance Teams Proposed for N.Y.C. Schools

Governance Teams Proposed for N.Y.C. Schools

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Parents and teachers in the nation's largest school system would have broad new authority over their schools under a plan the New York City school board is expected to take up next week.

The proposal, which Schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew announced at a Nov. 4 board meeting, would set up decisionmaking councils at all the city's 1,100-plus schools. Half the membership would consist of teachers and school administrators, including the principal, and half would be parents, students, and community representatives.

The teams, which would vary in size, would collaborate on decisions ranging from the school budget to curriculum concerns to professional development, and they would have the authority, given an impasse, to override a principal's authority by appealing to the district superintendent, a mediator, or even the chancellor himself.

In a letter to parents, Mr. Crew said the panels would help the district reach its goals of meeting new performance standards and state graduation requirements.

Efforts to improve schools will not work "without the participation of local communities in their children's education," he said in the letter. "For a plan to work for all schools, it must address the concerns of parents, teachers, administrators, local community organizations, and others throughout the city."

An Old Idea

The New York City proposal is the outcome of a school governance law passed by the state legislature in 1996, which calls for shared decisionmaking in every city school by October 1999.

The chancellor's plan was drafted by researchers from the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory, based at Brown University. They consulted with some 7,000 parents, teachers, administrators, and community representatives, according to J.D. LaRock, a spokesman for the 1.1 million-student district.

School-based-decisionmaking councils are neither new to the New York schools nor a new concept generally. According to Priscilla Wohlstetter, an education professor at the University of Southern California and the director of the school's Center on Education Governance, the movement began "way, way back" as an effort to decentralize schools and has had fits and starts in New York City since the 1960s. She said that most big-city school systems have adopted some form of site-based management.

While such councils have not been required in the New York schools, some 780 city schools report having some sort of collaborative-decisionmaking team, according to the district. Most of them are composed of the principal, a teachers' union representative, and a parent-association member.

Some New York City stakeholders are skeptical of the new plan. They contend that mandating a one-size-fits-all leadership structure would pose some problems at some schools and a lot of problems at others.

"People who are natural leaders have been doing this forever," said Jill S. Levy, the executive vice president of the 4,500-member Council of Supervisors and Administrators. Mr. Crew's plan, she said, "isn't a natural process. It's artificial."

"It's going to be difficult for some schools to transition into a legislated format," she argued.

But parent and teacher groups have cheered the proposal, saying that the new panels, which Mr. Crew has said would be almost entirely focused on student performance, would help raise academic achievement.

"The focus here is with improved outcomes: how to improve instruction and learning in school," said Noreen Connell, the executive director of the Education Priorities Panel, a nonprofit coalition of city civic groups. "Teachers and parents are buying into it, and because of its focus they're much more optimistic that this won't be another failed social experiment."

Vol. 18, Issue 12, Page 3

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