Boston Plan Targets Principals and Curriculum

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Boston Superintendent Thomas W. Payzant has begun reviewing the performance of the principals in each of the city's schools and says he will decide by the end of the school year which of them will keep their jobs.

The evaluations and an ongoing curriculum overhaul are part of a plan that the former U.S. Department of Education official says will give the city's children a completely restructured school system by the fall.

Principals, teachers, and district officials met last week at each of the city's 117 schools to review more than 400 pages of curriculum recommendations.

"The reorganization is about changing the focus from looking at the needs of the bureaucracy to the needs of children," Deputy Superintendent Janice W. Jackson said last week.

The 55-year-old Mr. Payzant, a native of Boston, has moved quickly since leaving his job as an assistant secretary of education in October to take the reins of the 62,000-student district. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1995.)

The reorganization plan he introduced in February won approval last month from the seven-member Boston school committee, which is appointed by the mayor.

The plan eliminated the district's three "level offices," which acted as administrative intermediaries between the central office and the elementary, middle, and secondary schools.

The system will be reorganized into 10 clusters of schools, with each cluster acting as a kind of mini-district with its own elementary, middle, and high schools.

A principal representing each cluster will have direct access to the superintendent.

An Essay Test

The push for open lines of communication and both administrative and curriculum reform comes directly from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has made improving Boston's schools the primary goal of his administration.

"It's the first time the mayor, the head of the school committee, and the superintendent all have the same priorities," said Ellen Guiney, the executive director of the Boston Plan for Excellence, a local education fund.

Although many education advocates in the city support Mr. Payzant's efforts to place schools at the top of the organizational chart, they also acknowledge the difficulty of doing so.

"The problem is changing the mind-set and getting the administration to buy into that," said Loretta Roach, the executive director of the Citywide Education Coalition, a group supporting K-12 education. "If they don't buy into that, they should be gone."

As part of the restructuring, Mr. Payzant plans to cut 55 administrative positions, mostly by eliminating the level offices.

The superintendent began reviewing the district's principals and headmasters--as Boston calls its high school principals--on March 1, when he instructed each of the school heads to write and submit to him a 500-word "vision statement."

Mr. Payzant plans to use these statements, along with evaluations from school officials and surveys from parents, to determine which of the principals will keep their jobs. He plans to make those decisions by May 1, before the principals' contract-renewal deadline.

"I'd prefer not to fire anyone, but the bottom line is that if you're not serving the kids of Boston Public Schools, you don't need to work here," said Ms. Jackson, who is assisting the superintendent with the reviews. "We're trying to get the best fit possible."

Many supporters of education reform in the city hailed the idea that some principals may be removed.

"Boston hasn't fired a principal for 30 years," Ms. Guiney said. "They have moved principals, but they have never fired them."

Even some principals say they support the evaluation.

"It's healthy," said Don Pellegrini, the headmaster of West Roxbury High School. "Teachers evaluate students every day."

Another factor in the principals' evaluations will be their schools' report cards, another of Mr. Payzant's innovations. Released for the first time in December, the annual reports include more information about each school's performance than the district released in the past.

Ms. Jackson says the Superintendent's office did not specifically target principals for such intense scrutiny. The central office's senior administrators face a similar review later this year, she said.

More Guidance

For years, the district's central office gave schools little direction on such questions as curriculum, said Mr. Pellegrini, a headmaster for 17 years.

Last week, however, he joined other school-level administrators in a review of the central office's recommendations for citywide curriculum standards.

The recommendations from the district team include an integrated approach to teaching both science and mathematics through the 9th grade so that, for instance, life sciences and physical sciences are not treated separately in different grade levels, as is now the case.

Recommendations for reading instruction include giving teachers a set of core works to choose from.

Mr. Payzant plans to implement the new curriculum standards beginning in the 1996-97 school year.

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