changes at the top

Fariña to require more experienced superintendents who play stronger role in schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Current school superintendents will soon have to reapply for their jobs and undergo new training, while new applicants will need several extra years of school-based experience to be eligible for the role, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Tuesday.

The city is reshaping the role of the 43 superintendents covered by the new regulations, whose main tasks today are to evaluate schools and principals. Now, they will be expected to provide more support to principals dealing with everything from the city’s prekindergarten expansion to students with special needs, even as they continue to evaluate them, senior Department of Education officials said on a conference call with reporters.

While Fariña has already replaced most of the education department’s senior leadership, the latest changes mark the beginning of a shakeup among administrators who deal directly with individual schools. But it continues her push to elevate veteran educators to leadership roles: She appointed longtime educators as her top deputies, and has insisted that would-be principals spend seven years in schools before they apply to become school leaders.

The role of superintendents was greatly diminished under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who transferred many of their responsibilities to school-support networks that principals entered voluntarily. Fariña has vowed not to upend the network system for now, but by shifting more support duties back to superintendents and potentially hiring some new ones, her administration will now have a greater hand in what happens inside schools.

“These changes serve our greatest goal of directly improving classroom learning for students across the city,” Fariña said in a statement.

New superintendent candidates will now need to have worked in schools for at least 10 years, with at least three of those as a principal, according to the proposed regulation changes that must be approved by an oversight board in August. In the past, would-be superintendents needed three years experience as a principal or to have held a high-level role within the education department.

Superintendents could now be expected to interact more with families and to help school leaders manage the added training time and other elements of the new teachers contract, officials said. They must also now attend community events and show a commitment to arts education.

The current crop of 32 district superintendents and nine high school superintendents will have to reapply for their positions, but they will not be held to the same 10-year-experience requirement as future candidates. Still, all but six of the 43 current superintendents already meet the new experience requirements, according to the city. (The superintendents who oversee special districts for older students and those with severe disabilities are not covered by the rule changes.)

The superintendents must pass through a new application process that is now online and will require essays and references, the city said. The officials said they expect to rehire “the vast majority” of the sitting superintendents.

The city will train the superintendents using a two-year, $750,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation, which was also a major funder of the New York City Leadership Academy, Bloomberg’s training program for new principals. Department officials said this would be the first time superintendents took part in a group training, something they said would lead to more uniformity across the school system.

Current and new superintendents, as well as potential candidates for the job, will receive three weeks of summer training followed by monthly workshops and individual coaching during the school year, according to a Wallace Foundation spokeswoman. As part of the grant, the city will also “re-write” superintendents’ job description, said the spokeswoman, Jessica Schwartz.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

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.