elsewhere

Manager-educator pairings: A look at three other cities

New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner may allow publishing executive Cathleen Black to become the next schools chancellor on one condition: Mayor Bloomberg appoints a Chief Academic Officer.

Steiner’s suggestion has met with mixed reviews, but a look at other cities with non-educator school leaders shows that the arrangement is not uncommon.

Chicago

In Chicago, whether the schools Chief Executive Officer has a Chief Academic Officer is not up to the mayor or the schools CEO — it’s in the law.

In 1995, when the Illinois state legislature gave Chicago mayoral control of schools, the law also created the position of chief education officer. Styled after corporate boards, the school system’s administration was to be led by a chief executive officer, who did not have to have a background and education, and four other officers, one of whom would be an education expert. The law says:

The chief executive officer shall appoint, with the approval of the Trustees, a chief operating officer, a chief fiscal officer, a chief educational officer, and a chief purchasing officer to serve until June 30, 1999. These officers shall be assigned duties and responsibilities by the chief executive officer.

Unlike in New York, where the chancellor can decide the titles and job descriptions of his (it’s always been a “he”) deputies, these positions are cemented in the law in Chicago. Chicago’s CEO can change the responsibilities that fall under each officer, but the city is legally required to have an educational expert. Since 2001, the city has had two CEOs without much teaching experience and one chief education officer: Barbara Eason-Watkins. She resigned in April and without her in place, some principals say they feel directionless.

San Diego

Members of San Diego’s school board did not making hiring a chief academic officer the condition for bringing in Superintendent Bill Kowba, but they did make it clear that they wanted him to hire one. A piece in Voice of San Diego about the appointment of Nellie Meyer, deputy superintendent for academics, states:

Board members have repeatedly said he would need a strong deputy superintendent to offset his lack of school experience.

San Diego was the first city to have a non-educator superintendent, setting a precedent for the current arrangement. Former Superintendent Alan Bersin, who had worked the local U.S. Attorney, took charge of the schools in 1998 and appointed Tony Alvarado to oversee academics. Looking back, Bersin has said that he needed a co-leader with experience in education. Alvarado made his reputation by improving schools in New York City’s District 2. From an interview with PBS:

Smith: Not being an educator, did you need an educational partner?

Bersin: No question about that. I understood that I wasn’t about to teach teachers about reading and I needed to connect with an educational leader and someone who could educate our system as well as educate me. There was a period of three to four months beginning in March of 1998 when I was both U.S. Attorney and the superintendent designate. I used that opportunity to speak with many people around the country, get suggestions, and met with a couple of perspective candidates, and then found Tony Alvarado.

Detroit

The leadership structure in Detroit is an example of how appointing a chief academic officer as the number two to a schools leader can lead to turf wars with other education officials.

In 2009, Michigan’s governor brought in Robert Bobb, a former city manager, as the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit’s public schools. A month after his appointment, Bobb, who has no experience in education, named Barbara Byrd-Bennett to be his chief academic and accountability auditor. He put her in charge of revamping the schools’ curriculum and overseeing the hiring and firing of principals while he dealt with the deficit.

Yet Byrd-Bennett’s authority has been challenged by Detroit’s Board of Education, which appointed its own schools superintendent and insists that the board, not Bobb, controls academics. Bobb says that because he controls the schools’ finances, it’s his decision which academic programs get funding.

The turf war is even playing out on the district’s website, which highlights the names of the academic officers appointed by Bobb. The names of the Board of Education-appointed academic leaders are next to them in plain font.

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 [email protected].

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.”