First Person

Our Next Chancellor

With the mayoral election decided, it is time to speculate on Joel Klein’s successor. Yes, even with Mayor Bloomberg’s victory, the current Chancellor will soon be history.

This prediction probably assures Klein’s job into the next century (with serially-extended term limits and a hefty mayoral investment in cryogenics, it could happen!) but eight years seems enough for the Chancellor, who has a history of short-term jobs and immediate prospects as an internationally-acclaimed education consultant. Also, believe the rumor that Bloomberg traded the Chancellor’s head for the Legislature’s renewal of Mayoral Control and that a new Chancellor will help Bloomberg counter charges of third-term lethargy.

So, probably cursing the chances of anyone listed below (and I deny that intent), who are the likely candidates to become the next Chancellor of the nation’s largest public school system?

Paul Vallas: Vallas has headed school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Louisiana Recovery School District, where he now works.  A champion of innovative school governance and data-based accountability, he is a nationally recognized education manager. Vallas was Chicago’s budget director before appointment to his schools post by Democratic Mayor Richard Daley, so seems like Bloomberg’s kind of rough and ready technocrat, much in the Klein mold. Additionally, as an outsider, he would reinforce the Mayor’s message of third term renewal.

Christopher Cerf: Fresh from his stint as the Bloomberg campaign’s education point man, Cerf was until recently a trusted Deputy Chancellor under Klein. He is a former executive at Edison Schools and an attorney with superintendent credentials. Like Bloomberg and Klein, he is often condescending and feisty. State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch once described him as “the A-word” (pausing to explain she meant “arrogant”). Ethical questions have been raised concerning Cerf’s handling of his Edison stock while working for the DOE and soliciting a charitable contribution from a DOE contractor.

Eric Nadelstern: Nadelstern is a long-serving New York City educator who has risen in the DOE ranks to become Chief Schools Officer, supervising all district superintendents and student support organizations. Formerly the well-respected principal of International High School, he was the original head of Klein’s “autonomy schools” initiative which morphed and grew into today’s Empowerment Schools. Nadelstern has been a loyal lieutenant to Klein, with deputies from his earlier days at Tweed now dotting a number of leadership posts. This is one reason that tea-leaf readers view him as the favorite, should the Mayor choose an insider.

Jean-Claude Brizard: Another life-long educator (not necessarily an advantage), Brizard is the former principal of Westinghouse High School and an expert in one of the third term’s main goals: improving Career and Technical Education, as well as, more generally, secondary education reform. As a Haitian-American, Brizard is the only person of color on this short list. Like Cerf, Brizard is a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy, which applies corporate strategies to school district management. He held a number of senior DOE posts, including Executive Director of Secondary Education and, for a short time, Superintendent of Region 6 but seemed to fall out of favor and is currently superintendent of the Rochester, N.Y., Public Schools. This, though, could be an advantage as one of only two listed candidate (the other is Vallas) who has run a big city school district.

Robert Hughes: Hughes is a dark horse but might have his eyes on the prize. He is currently President of New Visions for Public Schools, a widely admired (especially by the powerful Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) not-for-profit that catalyzed the push for New York City’s small high schools. Hughes was also a plaintiff’s attorney at the beginning of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity law suit that substantially increased State aid to the public schools. If influential members of the New Visions board back Hughes, he could be the city’s next Chancellor.

Assuming Bloomberg is a lame duck, his choice of Chancellor — or a decision to keep Klein — is especially hard to predict. Since the selection of Chancellor need not be approved by the City Council or other body, the choice is largely the Mayor’s alone. So choose from the above or write someone in: The betting window is now open to name the next person responsible for educating over a million of our kids.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Robert Hughes is seeking state certification. He is not.

First Person

I mentor students demoralized about not having a vote. Here’s their plan for getting civically involved before turning 18

Students in the Minds Matter program.

Every Monday night during the school year, I spend time with two wonderful young women. They’re high-achieving high school sophomores from low-income families whose success would be certain if they grew up in a more affluent ZIP code.

Along with a team of other mentors, I help the students improve their writing and communication skills to help them prepare for a successful college career. That’s what I’m prepared to do.

I was less prepared for what they brought to our meeting last week, the first time we met under the tenure of a new president. They talked about feeling the consequences of the national political shift, though at 15, they knew it would be years before they could cast a ballot of their own. “We feel left out of a system that affects us too,” they said.

So our task that night became to expand our ideas about what participation in the American political system really means.

Here are five ideas we came up with, designed to help high schoolers do just that.

1. Meet elected officials. Meeting state senators and representatives during their campaigns is often the easiest way to make contact. Attend a coffee event, a party meeting, or a fundraiser where students can introduce themselves and talk about their concerns. Encourage them to be more than just another face in the crowd.

There are plenty of young, local elected officials to learn from. Dominick Moreno, a prominent Senate Democrat on the state of Colorado’s powerful Joint Budget Committee, got his start running for class president as a high school sophomore. Still only 32, he has already served in the House of Representatives and as mayor pro tem of a Denver suburb.

2. Volunteer on a campaign. This is the best opportunity for students to get an inside look at the political process and can help them establish lasting relationships with real people working in politics.

Some legislators face tough races and are out knocking on doors for months. Others spend their time differently, and in either case, candidates need help reaching out to voters, managing social media accounts, answering emails or organizing events. Plus, this work looks great on student résumés.

I tell students about my own experience. It started small: When I was 10, I passed out stickers for local elected officials at holiday parades. When I was 16, I got the chance to intern at the South Dakota state capitol. At 21, I got my first job in Washington, and at 23 I started lobbying in Colorado, affecting policy that now touches all citizens of the state.

3. Think locally. There are so many small things that students can do that will help their community become a better place on their own timeline. Help students organize a neighborhood clean-up day or tutor at an elementary school. These might feel inadequate to students when they look at the big picture, but it’s important to remind them that these actions help weave a fabric of compassion — and helps them become local leaders in the community.

4. Pre-register to vote. Voting matters, too. It sounds simple, but pre-registering addresses a root cause of low voter turnout — missing deadlines. In Colorado, one must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 16 years old, and reside in the state 22 days prior to the date of the election.

5. Affiliate with a party.
This assures full involvement in the process. Before turning 18, students can still attend party meetings or even start a “Young Democrats/Republicans” group at school. If they don’t feel like they fit with either the Republican or the Democratic parties, that’s OK — unaffiliated voters can now take part in the primary elections and help name either Republican or Democratic leaders.

Talking through these ideas helped the students I work with realize voting isn’t the only way to make a difference. One of my students has started a group that helps other young women know about birth control options, after seeing girls in her high school struggle and drop out after getting pregnant. Other students in the group have asked to learn more about the legislative process and want to testify on legislation.

They’re proving that democracy doesn’t begin and end with casting a ballot — but it does depend on taking interest and taking action.

Zoey DeWolf is a lobbyist with Colorado Legislative Services, based in Denver. She also works with Minds Matter of Denver, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help prepare accomplished high school students from low-income families for successful college careers.

First Person

It’s time to retire the myth that any counselor can do the job alone — even at a tiny school

A few of the author's students who graduated last year.

I waited five years to get my dream job as a counselor in a New York City public school. After all of that waiting, I was full of ideas about how I would be able to use my experience to help students navigate what can be an overwhelming few years.

I wanted to make our school counseling more individualized and full of innovative support mechanisms. I wanted our guidance department to be a place that anyone could leave with a grand plan.

A few months into that first year, in fall 2015, it was clear that my vision would be, to put it bluntly, impossible to achieve.

When I received my position at a Harlem high school in District 5, I was assigned to not only take on the responsibilities of a school counselor, but also to act as the college advisor, assign (and then frequently re-shuffle) class schedules for every student, and several other tasks. My school had just under 200 students — enrollment low enough that it was assumed this could all be managed.

This proved to be a very inaccurate assumption. I was working with a group of students with low attendance rates, and many were English language learners or students with disabilities. Many students were overage and under-credited, others were in foster care or homeless, some had returned from incarceration, and a couple were teen parents or pregnant.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum school counselor-to-student ratio of one to 250. I know from experience that extremely high student need makes that ratio meaningless. Almost all of these students needed help in order to be ready to learn. Their needs tripled the feel of our enrollment.

This frequent mismatch between need and numbers puts school counselors like me in the position to do a great disservice to so many students. As the only counselor available, a seemingly small mishap with a task as crucial as graduation certification or credit monitoring could have spelled disaster for a student. I know some seniors missed certain financial aid opportunities and application deadlines, and some ninth, 10th, and 11th graders could have used more academic intervention to help them transition to the next grade level successfully.

My success at keeping our promotion and college admissions rates on the upswing was largely due to my outreach and partnership with community-based organizations that helped support several of our students. Had it not been for their assistance, I wouldn’t have achieved anything near what I did.

I’m still a counselor at my small school, and some aspects of the job have gotten easier with time. I love my job, which I think of as the most rewarding yet intense position in the building. But I still believe that there is almost no case in which only one counselor should be available for students.

Principals and school leaders directly involved with the budget must make sure to effectively analyze the needs of their student population, and advocate for an appropriately sized counseling staff. Small schools face real funding constraints. But ones serving students like mine need more than they’ve gotten.

Students’ social and emotional development and their academic success go hand in hand. Let’s not make the mistake of conflating enrollment numbers with need.

Danisha Baughan is a high school counselor and college advisor. She received her masters in school counseling in May 2010 and has held elementary, middle, and high school counseling positions since then.