As school year began, officials retreated north to discuss future

From an invitation advertising the retreat.

Here’s an interesting picture of how things happen at the Department of Education.

A while ago, a source told me about a retreat he attended at a hotel in Westchester, where the Department of Education invited a bunch of education people — especially small school and charter school leaders — to a hotel for a two-day community-building experience.

An invitation had promised discussion of “The Future of Our Work,” including a run-down of the successes and challenges of the Bloomberg administration’s school efforts. Successes included the fast expansion of small and charter schools, which the invitation concluded are out-performing traditional district schools and the reorganization of the school system with “schools at the center.” Challenges included the financial “sustainability” of partner groups that assist the schools; the requirement of sharing facilities with traditional public schools; and “Human Capital development.”

There was also a lot of worrying about what is probably a bigger potential obstacle: The possibility that, come 2009, when the state Legislature votes on whether to keep, abolish, or alter mayoral control of the public schools, the system could be organized in a completely different way. There was no question on which side the Department of Education stood. At the end of the first day, a group that is fighting for the preservation of mayoral control of the public schools, but which has said it has no formal ties to the Bloomberg administration, spoke about its political plans. Chancellor Joel Klein also gave a speech passionately declaring that the successes that have happened would endangered if mayoral control was abolished.

The DOE’s Office of Portfolio Development, the team that runs the city’s many new small schools and charter schools and is led by Garth Harries, organized the retreat, and a grant from the Gates Foundation, which has financed much of the city’s small school expansion efforts, paid for it. The total cost was $21,000. It was quite similar to another retreat in 2004 that brought many of the same people together, said David Cantor, a spokesman for the department, who called the retreat “highly unexceptional.”

Cantor said that Harries invited the political group, called Learn NY, because people coming to the retreat had been asking questions about it. “So Garth decided, okay, they’re not us, but I will contact them and see if I can arrange for them to come up and talk to folks off the agenda,” Cantor said.

Below I’ve pasted the invitation and agenda for the retreat.

Here is part 1 of the invitation’s list of successes and challenges:

And the next part:

And here is the full agenda: