comings and goings

Head of student enrollment retires from the office she built

The head of student enrollment is retiring from the office she created after overseeing massive changes in how students apply and are accepted to city high schools.

In an email, Chancellor Joel Klein said that Elizabeth Sciabarra, who founded the Office of Student Enrollment in 2003, will retire at the end of this month. Sciabarra, who has worked in schools and for the Department of Education for 37 years, has been the architect overseeing how the chancellor’s policy of high school choice has been enacted.

Her retirement may not come at a great time for families — students’ high school applications are due to the city on December 3 — and Sciabarra is known for her willingness to personally respond to parents’ cries of confusion.

“I would say she’s done an amazing job in transforming the admissions system,” said InsideSchools’ editor Pam Wheaton. “That’s not to say there still aren’t glitches, but when InsideSchools began in 2002, it was a really flawed system.”

In the last eight years, the city has opened more than 200 new high schools, adding pages to the tome that is the high school directory, and necessitating more communication with parents about what their options are. To do this, Sciabarra created the High School Admissions Ambassadors Program, which taught a handful of parents the intricacies of the admissions process and brought them to events where they could help other parents.

At the end of this month, Chief Operating Officer of the Portfolio Planning office Rob Sanft will temporarily replace Sciabarra, who is staying on as a part-time consultant.

Klein’s full email follows:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to let you know that after 37 years of service to New York City public schools, Elizabeth Sciabarra will retire later this month. Liz currently serves as CEO of the Office of Student Enrollment, which she founded in 2003. Rob Sanft, who served as Liz’s Chief Operating Officer from 2004-2010 and is currently COO for the Division of Portfolio Planning (DPP), will lead the Office of Student Enrollment on an interim basis. We are undertaking a search for a new leader. Liz will advise DPP as a part-time consultant to assist in the transition to new leadership.

Liz began her career at Brooklyn Technical High School, where she served as an English teacher, then as Coordinator of Student Affairs, and then as Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services. Liz later served as principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island for almost ten years before becoming Deputy Superintendent of Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools, Deputy Superintendent of High Schools, and finally Superintendent of Selective Schools.

Since founding the Office of Student Enrollment in 2003, Liz has overseen enrollment services for students in pre-kindergarten through high school, including pre-kindergarten admissions, kindergarten enrollment, elementary school gifted and talented placement, middle school choice, high school admissions, placement and transfers, and NCLB Public School Choice. Under Liz’s leadership, the Office of Student Enrollment developed the nation’s premier high school choice system. Most recently, Liz launched the High School Admissions Ambassadors Program, designed to teach interested parents and stakeholders about the high school admissions process and to engage them in high school admissions events across the city.

Beginning November 22, Rob will serve as Interim Acting CEO for Enrollment. Susan Cofield, Executive Director of Manhattan Enrollment, will take on additional responsibilities to oversee pre-k through 5th grade enrollment and gifted and talented enrollment. Sandy Ferguson, who currently leads our middle school enrollment, will now oversee 6th through 12th grade enrollment. Together, these three leaders bring more than 58 years of experience working with New York City public schools. I am confident they will successfully lead this year’s admissions and choice processes.

We are grateful that Liz will continue to support this enrollment cycle and remain connected to our work. Liz has shown an unrelenting drive to put children first, and has been an inspiration and a model for all of our staff. She has served as an ambassador for reform and a dedicated advocate for students. Please join me in thanking Liz for her years of service and immeasurable contribution to the children of New York City.

Sincerely,

Joel Klein

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or FACE@schools.nyc.gov.

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”