Teaching division to disappear in latest DOE reshuffling

The Division of Teaching and Learning is set to disappear under the latest reorganization at the city’s education department.

The move is part of a slate of changes intended to streamline the department’s organization, according to spokesman David Cantor. He called the changes, which include the creation of a deputy chancellor for community engagement position, “an organic next step” in the series of administrative shifts that have taken place under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

The teaching and learning office, which is on its fourth leader since 2007, is getting folded into the Division of School Support, which contains the network structure that currently manages how schools receive administrative assistance. The new office will be called the Division of School Support and Instruction and will be headed by Chief Schools Officer Eric Nadelstern, giving him authority over the central piece of schools’ business for the first time.

“Obviously the aim is to make instruction as effective as can be, but I don’t think anyone’s going to see any kind of sudden shift in the way we go about teaching kids, and nor do we want that,” Cantor said. “The point is just to help do what we’re good at better.”

Under the changes, which will finish taking effect by July 1, the current head of teaching and learning, Santiago Taveras, will become the first-ever community engagement czar. Leaving behind his instructional past, Taveras will manage how the department presents to the public proposals that are set to come before the city school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy.

The way the proposals are handled has become a growing issue for the department in the wake of the school governance law enacted last summer, which strengthened requirements for public review before the department puts new policies in place. A judge ruled last month that because the department had not met those requirements, it should not be permitted to carry out its plan to close 19 schools.

By putting someone in charge of public engagement, “we’re trying to be responsive to the new school governance legislation and the kinds of demands it makes,” Cantor said. 

Clara Hemphill, the founder of Insideschools.org who is working on a report about the network structure for the Center for New York City Affairs, said the dissolution of the teaching and learning department sounded unlikely to herald major changes.

“They’ve been moving in this direction for a long time,” she said. “The big shift was when they moved from regions to autonomy [in 2007]. At that point they effectively dismantled systemic attempts to improve instruction.”

In another major consolidation, the department will bring school siting, enrollment, charter schools, and several other small offices under one roof in a new Division of Portfolio Planning. Marc Sternberg, the former principal of Bronx Lab High School who is working at the White House this year, will head that office.

Other changes redistribute top-level department officials. The head of the School Construction Authority, Sharon Greenberger, will become the department’s chief operating officer. Her deputy, Lorraine Grillo, will be her replacement on an interim basis. Photeine Anagnastopoulos, currently the chief operating officer in charge of the department’s budget, will become deputy chancellor of finance and technology. Laura Rodriguez, who heads the office overseeing students with disabilities and English language learners, and accountability chief Shael Suransky-Polakow will both become deputy chancellors. Each promotion carries with it a small salary boost.