City is hiring more "superprincipals" for struggling schools

After dodging layoffs by eliminating raises for teachers and city administrators for the next two years, the city is hiring principals with potential $25,000 bonuses.

Two years ago, the Department of Education began offering veteran principals the chance to earn yearly bonuses for improving test scores and graduation rates at struggling schools. Despite deep cuts to the city’s education budget, and four percent cuts to schools, the city is continuing the program this year. A source with knowledge of the city’s hiring for next year said as many as eight new executive principals will be brought in to lead schools on the brink of closure, most of them high schools.

DOE officials would not name the incoming executive principals or where they’ll work, and it may be the case that not all of them have been hired. The department’s website still says “multiple vacancies available” for the executive principal job. The program has been criticized by some who see it as a waste of money when the city is looking for ways to cut spending.

One school that will see an executive principal at the helm next year is Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, where the current principal Barbara Esmilla is retiring. The school has over 2,700 students and a high percentage of special education students and students who aren’t fluent in English. Given its grades on the city-issued progress reports — two C’s and, most recently, a D — it could be in danger of being closed down.

At the Panel for Educational Policy meeting last night, several teachers from Murry Bergtraum said the DOE wasn’t allowing them to form a committee to nominate a new principal. According to the chancellor’s regulations, a committee of parents, teachers, and students can vet candidates and then suggest the city hire the one they like best.

Murry Bergtraum’s chapter leader, John Elfrank-Dana, said teachers had already been told that the city would select an executive principal without their input.

“It probably means they’ve already picked someone,” he said. “It’s just arrogance.”

At the meeting, Chancellor Joel Klein said he would look into the selection of a new principal at Murry Bergtraum.

According to the most recent data released by the city, these were the executive principals in the fall of 2009: