School & District Management

New York City Chancellor Overhauls Principal Support System

By Denisa R. Superville — January 23, 2015 3 min read
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The New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is dismantling the Bloomberg-era network system that provided teacher training, curriculum assistance and other supports to principals, and reassigning those responsibilities to superintendents.

The 55 networks, which were promoted under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to give schools more autonomy, will be replaced with seven regional Borough Field Support Centers.

The Bloomberg policy allowed principals to choose which networks to which they wanted to belong—regardless of the school’s location. The new regional centers will be based on geography.

Under the Bloomberg plan, community and high school superintendents could rate and fire principals, but they did not provide them with support and had small staffs to do the job. The networks, on the other hand, provided the principals with the support, but could not fire them.

Fariña said she was hoping to streamline the process and create a clear line of accountability. Principals will be answerable to superintendents, who in turn will answer to Fariña.

The new system will make it easier to support struggling schools and to share best practices, Fariña said. It will go into effect in the 2015-16 school year.

“We are drawing clear lines of authority and holding everyone in the system accountable for student performance,” according to a prepared copy of remarks Fariña was set to deliver before a business friendly crowd at the Association for a Better New York. “Schools get supervision and support from one place: superintendent. Families have one place to call if they cannot solve problems at the school: superintendent.”

Despite criticisms, the networks remained popular among many principals. Shortly after Mayor Bill de Blasio was elected in November 2013, about 120 school leaders sent a letter to him highlighting the benefits of the network system, including the freedom it offered schools with similar visions to work together and the ability of schools from areas of the city with different socio-economic and racial composition to collaborate, according to Chalkbeat New York.

The regional centers will be beefed up with additional staff. Each office will have a team of six, including two family engagement officers, a field support liaison, a liaison to low-performing schools, and a principal leadership facilitator.

The offices will also be staffed with experts in instruction, operations and students services, including supporting English language learners, according to the education department.

The chancellor stressed that principals will retain the ability to hire their staff and manage their budgets.

Fariña, a former superintendent, has sought to increase the superintendent’s role, which had been diluted under Bloomberg. She has referred to them as her “eyes and ears” in the schools.

Last summer, the department changed the requirements for becoming a superintendent in the New York City school system, mandating that superintendents have 10 years of pedagogic experience and at least three years of experience as a principal. All superintendents had to reapply for their jobs. The Daily News reported that 15 of the 42 were replaced.

A report, entitled, “Strong Schools, Strong Communities,” which accompanied Farina’s announcement, laid out the chancellor’s vision for improving schools, highlighted several shortcomings of the old system, and provided the administration’s rationale for the change.

Resources were not equitably distributed among the networks, Fariña said. And because the principals could choose to belong to any network, regardless of geography, it was often difficult for schools to collaborate and confusing for parents to navigate the system, according to the paper.

The superintendent offices will now be responsible for responding to parents.

The networks are run by independent nonprofit and education organizations, such as the City University of New York or CUNY, New Visions for Public Schools and Urban Assembly. Those three will continue to have a role, but they will also now report to the superintendents. Other network providers will not return.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.