Fearing change, principals lobby de Blasio to protect networks

Facing an incoming mayor who wants to shake up the city school system, a coalition of principals is lobbying to hold on to one Bloomberg policy they say is crucial to running their schools.

A group of 120 school leaders say they’re concerned with Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s campaign pledge to restructure the city’s support networks, which manages school operations around professional development, curriculum and budgeting. De Blasio has said he wants some decision-making authority restored to district superintendents, who oversaw support before Mayor Bloomberg won control of the school system.

The principals said they felt compelled to respond publicly to a chorus of criticism that the networks have received recently.

“Our feeling is that there has been a lot of talk, that people are dissatisfied with networks and the new mayor should eliminate them,” said P.S. 321 Principal Liz Phillips, who is leading the coalition. “But we felt that the voice of a lot of principals who are very satisfied haven’t been heard.”In a letter that Phillips co-authored and sent to de Blasio on Friday, the principals argue that they should be allowed to stay in their networks if they want. Listing the system’s perks, they say their networks encourage professional collaboration, unite like-minded schools across geographic boundaries, decouple support and evaluation — and they’re better than any system that’s come before it.

“Networks provide particular kinds of support for schools that many of us have found to be invaluable,” the principals say in the letter.

Their lobbying puts them at odds with their own union, the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators. CSA President Ernie Logan has said giving power back to superintendents, who manage and evaluate the job performance of principal, would restore a clearer chain-of-command.

“It’s true, some schools are especially pleased with their Network, but it is also true that some are dissatisfied,” CSA spokeswoman Antionette Isable-Jones said in statement.

The way school operations are managed has changed several times since 2002. Currently, schools choose to contract with networks run by the Department of Education or nonprofit-run support providers based on their need, with the least in-demand ones getting shut down.

Critics say the network structure has many drawbacks.

Some say the expertise of staffers can vary among networks and that some can become stretched thin trying to serve many member schools across multiple boroughs. Others say that far-flung networks can cut off schools from their surrounding communities, and that weaker networks fail to support struggling schools or serve high-need student populations.

“It’s a very mixed bag out there,” New York University professor Pedro Noguera said of the quality of networks.

Darlene Cameron, principal of Star Academy P.S. 63 in Manhattan, said that the collaboration among principals in a network can be useful, but that many networks feel pressure from the city to focus more on ensuring schools follow department protocols than helping them improve their practice.

“It should really be about teaching and learning and not about compliance,” she said.

The 120 principals represent schools in about six networks, said the letter’s co-author Julie Zuckerman, principal of Castle Bridge School. Zuckerman and Phillips belong to the Children First Network 102/113, which is run by Alison Sheehan and shares an opposition to high-stakes testing.

Another signee, Nedda DeCastro, principal of the International High School at Prospect Heights, said her network excels at helping her serve a student population of all English-language learners.

“It helps us tremendously,” said DeCastro, who belongs Children First Network 106, which serves other international high schools. “It is a lonely job and we need one another.”

Zuckerman and Phillips have often been on the other side of Bloomberg in the education debate, signing onto a letter opposing the role of testing in teacher evaluations. But Zuckerman said she expects other principals to join the coalition regardless of where they stand on other policy issues.

“This is a single issue thing that doesn’t have the same kind of complexities as testing and some other things have,” she said.

Seeking some middle ground, the principals proposed “a hybrid system that would allows successful networks to exist and offers more geographic-based structures for those who want that.”

Sheehan, the network leader, said a “hybrid” system would allow schools to get the support they need without abandoning networks altogether.

“What we’re trying to get de Blasio to understand is that one size doesn’t fit all and that he should figure out a way to differentiate supports for our schools,” she said.

A spokeswoman for de Blasio’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for the education department pointed out that principals are generally satisfied with networks. “Their views should be respected and valued,” said the spokesman.

A copy of the letter is below:

In support of the network structure option As people anticipate restructuring at the Department of Education in the next administration, we want to establish our support for keeping networks that work and allowing principals the choice as to whether they stay in those networks or not. Networks provide particular kinds of support for schools that many of us have found to be invaluable, and that were not necessarily provided through the district, region and ISC structures. These support features are: 1. The gathering of schools of similar visions or purpose: the internationals, special ed reform focused, collaboratively structured, and schools committed to alternative assessment. This enables these schools to work more closely together and support each other towards better meeting their missions. 2. Shifting the supervisory structure into an advisory and support structure. It makes all the difference in the world that the network leader and team members are not the principals’ rating officer. Our networks have been responsive to us and in many cases network principals have had a say in the selection of network staff. 3. Networks support professional development that better meets the needs of the teachers, administrators, and other support staff in our schools and that allows for cross-pollination across our schools. 4. Because of racial and economic segregation by neighborhood in New York City, geographic districts are often segregated as well. Self-selected networks offer the option of racially and economically diverse schools working together and benefitting greatly from this collaboration. We are deeply committed to our networks and do not want ours to be dismantled because some are not working well for others. We can imagine some kind of hybrid system that allows successful networks to exist and offers more geographic-based structures for those who want that—more like the early days of the Empowerment Zone. Robin Williams, East Village Community School 01M315 Dyanthe Spielberg, The Neighborhood School 01M363 Alison Hazut, The Earth School 01M364 Mark Federman, East Side Community High School 01M450 Laura Garcia, The Ella Baker School 02M225 Erin Carstensen, Essex Street High School 02M294 Brady Smith, The James Baldwin High School 02M313 Peter Karp, Institute for Collaborative Education 02M407 Alicia Perez-Katz, Baruch College Campus High School 02M411 Stacy Goldstein, School of the Future High School 02M413 Caron Pinkus, Landmark High School 02M419 William Klann, Vanguard High School 02M449 Herb Mack, Urban Academy Laboratory High School 02M565 Jeannie Ferrari, Humanities Preparatory High School 02M605 Lindley Uehling, Central Park East I 04M497 Naomi Smith, Central Park East II 04M964 Camille Wallin, Muscota New School 06M314 Valerie Valentine, Hamilton Heights School 06M368 Julie Zuckerman, Castle Bridge School 06M513 Sue-Ann Rosch, Community School for Social Justice 07X427 Brett Schneider, Bronx Collaborative High School 10X351 Nancy Mann, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School 12X682 John O’Reilly, Academy of Arts and Letters 13K492 Laura Scott, P.S. 10 15K010 Rose Dubitsky, P.S. 24 15K024 Rebecca Fagin, P.S. 29 15K029 Elizabeth Garraway, Maurice Sendak Community School 15K118 Maria Nunziata, P.S. 130 15K130 Anna Allanbrook, Brooklyn New School 15K146 Jack Spatola, P.S. 172 15K172 Sharon Fiden, P.S. 230 15K230 Zipporiah Mills, P.S. 261 15K261 Elizabeth Phillips, P.S. 321 15K321 Dawn Valle, The Math and Science Exploratory School 15K447 Alyce Barr, Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies 15K448 Jill Smith, Sunset Park Elementary School 15K516 Jennifer Spalding, Sunset Park Prep 15K821 Celeste Douglas, M.S. 57 16K057 Alexander White, Gotham Professional Arts Academy 16K594 Courtney Winkfield, Academy for Young Writers 19K404 Sarah Kaufmann, School of the Future Brooklyn 19K663 Bernadette Fitzgerald, P.S. 503 20K503 Donna Taylor, Brooklyn School of Inquiry 20K686 John Banks, Origins High School 22K611 Meghan Dunn, Riverdale Avenue Community School 23K446 Kiersten Ward, Riverdale Avenue Middle School 23K668 Isora Bailey, NYCi School 02M376 Mandana Beckman, P.S./I.S. 217 02M217 Monica Berry, P.S. 87 03M087 Jenny Bonnet, P.S. 150 02M 150 David Bowell, The 47 American Sign Language & English Lower School 02M347 John Curry, Community Action School 03M258 Judith De Los Santos, Collaborative Academy of Science, Technology and Language Arts Education 01M345 Amy Lipson Ellis, P.S. 175 11X175 Lauren Fontana, P.S. 6 02M006 Nancy Harris, Spruce Street School 02M397 Samantha Kaplan, Yorkville Community School 02M151 Patrick Kelly, Urban Science Academy 09X325 Marlon Lowe, Mott Hall II 03M862 Dahlia McGregor, Science Skills Center High School for Science, Technology and the Creative Arts 13K419 Veronica Najjar, P.S. 87 03M087 Tara Napoleoni, P.S. 183 02M183 D. 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Smith Career and Technical High School 07X600 Sarah Scrogin East Bronx Academy for the Future 12X271 Annette Fiorentino Bronx Latin 12X267 Jessica Goring The Bronx School of Law and Finance 10X284 Ty Cesene Bronx Arena 07X600 Sean Davenport Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change 05M670 Shadia Alvarez Collegiate Institute for for Math and Science 11X288 LeMarie Laureano The Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx 09X568