New York

City urged superintendents to favor Leadership Academy principals

The city Department of Education has often praised the principal-training program it helped incubate, the nonprofit Leadership Academy, despite veteran educators’ grumblings. But it has never, to my knowledge, come out and flatly declared that it would rather hire principals trained at the academy’s Aspiring Principal Program than principals trained elsewhere (like, for instance, a traditional university program.)

That’s what chief schools officer Eric Nadelstern wrote in the memo below, sent out to superintendents and school support organizations in June. “[I]f we are not actively seeking to place these Leadership Academy graduates, we are ignoring an important talent pool,” Nadelstern wrote. “I expect to see the number of unplaced APPs drop rapidly over the next few weeks.”

David Cantor, the Department of Education spokesman, verified the memo and endorsed it, though he toned down the extent to which the city school system is issuing a mandate over the heads of superintendents, who have the legal authority to decide which principals to place. “Superintendents have the right to appoint who they want to principal positions,” he said in a statement. “We believe that APP graduates are highly qualified and encourage superintendents to consider them when there are openings.”

It’s not clear how effective the Leadership Academy’s program is. A recent study found few conclusive differences drew mixed conclusions between the performance of schools run by Leadership Academy principals and similar schools whose leaders were traditionally trained. As study co-author Sean Corcoran summarized in our comments section, “After a few years, APP schools were improving at a slightly faster rate than comparison schools in ELA, but in math they improved at comparable rates.” ELA refers to English Language Arts.

Veteran teachers and principals privately disdain administrators hired there as young, cocksure, and ill-prepared, and Nadelstern’s memo acknowledges that sense. “We have heard from some of you that ‘THIS school needs someone with experience,'” he wrote.

Tthe study painted a more complicated picture. APP-trained principals are younger on average, by about three years (41 compared to 44); they have less classroom experience; and they are less likely to have served as an assistant principal before entering the academy. However, they are also more likely to be black, and they have an average of more than seven years of teaching experience when they enter the academy, just a few years less than traditionally trained principals.

A spokeswoman for the city principals union, Chiara Colleti, said in a statement that skilled principals come from many backgrounds. “We trust that Superintendents take a wide spectrum of criteria into consideration when they hire principals and wouldn’t succumb to pressure to hire candidates from one particular background,” she said.

Here’s Nadelstern’s memo:

From: Nadelstern Eric
Sent: Thursday, June 25, 2009 5:40 PM
To: &SSO Leaders; Composto Philip; Conyers Donald; Cortazzo Luz; Costantino Karina; D’Auria Richard (District 21); Druck Lillian ; Esposito Dolores; Ferrara Marianne; Hurdle Taylor Rhonda; Kay Diane; Lloyd-Bey Michele; Machen James; Madera Martha; Menendez Sonia; Murray Lenon; Phillips Daniella; Powis Catherine M; Quail James; Reed Jeannette; Reeves Gale; Rigney Daria; Rodriguez Myrna; Rokeach Dov; Salavert Roser; Santiago Evelyn; Saunders Anita; Schultz Margaret; Stuart Rosemary; Torres Yolanda; Weinstein Martin; White Elizabeth; Wilkins Beverly; Cumberbatch Ainslie; Dibartolomeo Joel ; DiMola Isabel (02M580); Gorman Elaine; Laboy Bonnie ; Papaliberios Elena; Pena Francesca (; Penzell Alexis; Unger Doris; Waite Linda
Cc: McIntosh Amy
Subject: Message regarding Leadership Academy graduates

Dear SSO Leaders and Superintendents,

We have 38 of this year’s Leadership Academy graduates who have not yet been hired for school leadership positions. As you know, the Chancellor has asked that we give them priority consideration when appointing principals or naming IAs.

Leadership Academy graduates bring many skills to the table. They have spent the past year in an intensive residency program, (some in your own network or district), shadowing some of our most successful principals, and these mentor principals speak highly of their leadership skills. The residency model has given them valuable hands-on experiences on what it takes to lead a high-needs school in NYC, and they are deeply familiar with our newest accountability tools and with the inquiry process that has so much potential to improve student learning through adult collaboration.

We have heard from some of you that “THIS school needs someone with experience.” Please keep in mind that many of the APPers have experience as assistant principals and all have demonstrated the kinds of personal leadership skills and track record of improving student learning that we need in our schools.

The data show that past APPs as a group have an admirable track record. The most relevant measure of success for Leadership Academy principals is to look at how their schools’ Progress Report grades have changed over time. Comparing principals three or four years into the job, seventy-eight percent of the Leadership Academy-trained principals improved or maintained their school’s Progress Report grade from 2006-07 to 2007-08 compared to 74% for new principals from other pathways with similar tenure. We also know that Leadership Academy principals take on tougher challenges and nevertheless are making greater gains.

If you are reviewing applicants to a C30, please be sure to include some APPs in the Level 1 if any apply. If you are making an IA assignment, APPs should be prioritized unless a school with strong performance has a succession candidate from the school who is already in the principal candidate pool. (No more candidates will be “rushed” this hiring season). If you would like more information about APPs who could be good fits for openings, please contact Carl Giaimo at [email protected] or 718-935-5376. SSO Leaders, please forward this information on to your network leaders as well.

It is our job to find an excellent principal for every school, but if we are not actively seeking to place these Leadership Academy graduates, we are ignoring an important talent pool. I expect to see the number of unplaced APPs drop rapidly over the next few weeks.

Eric Nadelstern

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.