It’s official: Networks dead, regional support to return, sups to exert more control at struggling schools

Updated — Networks are dead and regional support centers are back, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Thursday, in her biggest reversal of Bloomberg-era education policy yet.

The new structure eliminates the 55 networks that have provided operations and academic support to schools. In their place will be seven Borough Field Support Centers, which will be tasked with helping schools with instruction, operations, counseling, and supporting students with special needs. They centers will open this summer and the system will launch next school year.

But the centerpiece of the new structure will be superintendents, who will have six staff members, including family engagement officers and a “principal‎ leadership facilitator,” according to the city. That represents a major power reversal, since superintendents have had only a handful of helpers in recent years and served mainly to evaluate principals.

The changes will clarify lines of authority for schools and parents alike by putting superintendents back in charge of supporting and evaluating schools, Fariña said at a forum hosted by the Association for a Better New York.

“The central element of our new approach is creating clear accountability,” she said, “and giving superintendents the authority and resources they need to improve what happens in our schools and in our classrooms.”

Fariña was careful to note that most principals will keep control of their hiring and budgets, and credited the Bloomberg administration for giving principals needed autonomy.

A white paper also released by the city on Thursday said the pre-Bloomberg Board of Education and community school boards “were rife with patronage, inefficiency and ineffective bureaucracy. That is why this administration believes so strongly in the reforms of the last administration that put the schools under the control of the Mayor and Chancellor, and ultimately gave more independence to principals.”

But that independence often left struggling schools without enough guidance, Fariña said, adding that the city’s lowest performing schools will not retain that full authority. Instead, they will receive “customized direction and support” and will also be expected to use consistent teaching methods.

Fariña said a few of the nonprofit groups and universities that run existing networks will be allowed to continue supporting their schools, but they will now fall under the oversight of superintendents. She named a few of those groups — New Visions for Public Schools, the Urban Assembly, and CUNY — but not others, suggesting that some could lose their role helping to manage city schools. City officials later said that they are still in discussion with all of the groups, known as Partnership Support Organizations, about what role they will play in the new system.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the organizations, renamed “affinity groups,” will be held accountable for, what type of superintendent they would report to, and whether all of the PSOs would be interested in such a role, which would limit their influence.

The new structure marks the end of the decentralized structure that emerged after years of reshuffling and experimentation under the Bloomberg administration. The networks spanned multiple boroughs and typically worked with principals at about 25 schools each, a structure that earned mixed reviews over the years. Many principals said the ability to choose their network and work closely with like-minded colleagues was important.

The network system’s harshest critics pointed out that it left low-performing schools with too little oversight and parents without local officials to turn to, two problems Fariña said would be improved under the new system.

Superintendents have been gaining clout for months under Fariña, herself a former superintendent. After forcing them to reapply for their jobs this summer (more than a third were replaced), Fariña gave them new responsibility to interact with parents, promote arts education, ensure that quality teaching happens in schools — and told them to act as “the eyes and ears of the chancellor.”

Teachers, parents, principals, advocates: What do you think of the changes? Tell us in a one-minute survey.