Fernandez Management Views Concern N.Y.C. Principals

By Ann Bradley — October 11, 1989 3 min read

The president of New York City’s principals’ union plans to meet this month with Joseph A. Fernandez, the city’s newly appointed schools chancellor, to discuss the administrators’ concerns that Mr. Fernandez will turn school decisionmaking authority over to teachers.

Donald Singer, president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, said he recently sent a letter to Mr. Fernandez outlining areas in which the union is seeking a clarification of Mr. Fernandez’s views.

“It wasn’t a warning,” Mr. Singer said of the letter. “From what we have seen and heard, we agree with 90 percent of what he’s done and stands for, and merely wish to dis4cuss the remaining 10 percent.”

Mr. Fernandez, superintendent of the Dade County, Fla., schools, was chosen last month to head New York’s schools and will assume his new duties in January.

He has gained a national reputation for pioneering the concept of school-based management in Miami-area schools and is expected to institute such programs in New York City.

Tenure Targeted

Mr. Fernandez also has expressed interest in gaining the authority to transfer principals whose leadership is deemed to be ineffective. Since 1975, New York principals have been granted tenure in the buildings to which they are as8signed.

In Miami, Mr. Fernandez acquired a reputation for reassigning principals. In one case, he removed an elementary-school principal on the spot after touring a school that he found too dirty.

In a recent interview, Mr. Fernandez told The New York Times that he thought he should have the same authority in New York. “New York pays top dollar for its principals,” he said, “and they should expect top performers.”

Mr. Singer said it was “not appropriate to discuss” the issue of principals’ tenure in the news media.

“That kind of thing has to be discussed head to head, organization to organization, at a negotiating table,” he said.

Mr. Singer added that his letter to Mr. Fernandez noted that the principals’ group was “a labor organization as well as a professional organization, and we have a contract.”

Campaign Issue

In the weeks since Mr. Fernandez was named chancellor, the question of whether principals should have tenure in their buildings has emerged as an issue in the city’s mayoral campaign.

David Dinkins, the Democratic candidate, said last week that he would support efforts by Mr. Fernandez to change the tenure law as long as the principals’ union was given the opportunity to participate in all such discussions.

Rudolph Giuliani, the Republican contender, argued that principals should be given three- or four-year contracts at a particular school and that an assessment of student performance should be used to decide whether the pacts should be renewed.

In addition, Mr. Giuliani’s spokesman, Charles Perkins, said, principals should be given adequate resources to improve their schools to protect them from being arbitrarily dismissed.

Union Wants Final Say

The administrators’ union is not averse to working collaboratively with teachers and parents, Mr. Singer said.

But the union--which represents 4,500 principals, assistant principals, and other administrators in the city’s 1,033 schools--firmly believes that principals and assistant principals should make the final decisions in schools.

Mr. Singer said the question he plans to put to Mr. Fernandez is: “Does the principal have overall decisionmaking authority, and does the assistant principal have the final decision over his grade or area?”

In addition, Mr. Singer said he wants to clarify the future roles of mid-level supervisors in the school system.

Mr. Singer suggested that the new chancellor’s apparent plans to restructure the New York City school system throws the role of intermediate supervisors in doubt.

In Miami, he noted, such restructuring initiatives have resulted in satellite schools in businesses as well as schools that hold classes on weekends, both of which are supervised by teachers.

“We have to protect our integrity,” Mr. Singer said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 1989 edition of Education Week as Fernandez Management Views Concern N.Y.C. Principals