Backtracking, NYC will consider incumbent superintendents for revamped district leadership roles

Chancellor David Banks has asked all superintendents to reapply for their jobs as he seeks to expand the role district leaders will serve. (Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office)

When New York City Chancellor David Banks announced in March he would make 45 superintendents reapply for their positions, he also promised to make the process of picking new district leaders more inclusive than before. 

That promise seems to have backfired, with parents protesting after some well-liked superintendents were cut before the public had a chance to weigh in on who should lead their districts. 

But following that outcry, the education department is now backtracking: Officials announced Monday that all sitting superintendents have been asked to join a round of public candidate forums, after some initially did not make the cut.

“When I make the final determination of who will best serve all students in each district, that decision will combine the passionate feedback of parents and community members and each candidate’s ability to articulate a comprehensive vision for the future,” Banks said in a statement on Monday.

Superintendents are often the public face of the central education department, present at regular Community Education Council meetings and supervising principals. 

Banks has said they will play an even bigger role while he is chancellor, expanding their budgets and giving them more staff to better support principals and serve as a touchpoint between parents and the nation’s largest school system. 

Banks officially announced March 2 that superintendents would have to reapply for their jobs. Candidates who went through the process said they were asked to answer an essay question about how they would improve literacy proficiency in their district. 

The hiring process is set by state law and education department regulations, dictating that superintendents must have at least seven years as an educator, including at least three as principal. Parent leaders and labor union representatives are also supposed to be consulted once finalists are picked. 

Banks promised to go beyond the regulations, asking local parent groups to hold public candidate forums in each district. Officials on Monday released the dates and times of each forum, which begin this Thursday. 

“I’m going to be strongly led by what the community says. I do not want to be the person who solely picks the leaders,” he said at a March town hall meeting with parent leaders in Manhattan’s District 3. “I’m going to listen to parents and families and give them a real voice.”

Parents and education staffers pushed back last week, when word began to spread that some sitting superintendents had been cut before the public was even given a chance to voice its opinion. The outcry was especially loud in Queens’ District 30, where an online petition to keep longtime superintendent Philip Composto garnered thousands of signatures. 

Elected politicians also weighed in – potentially making it uncomfortable as Banks and Mayor Eric Adams try to convince the state legislature to extend the law that gives the mayor most decision-making power over the school system. State Rep. Cathy Nolan released a statement in Composto’s support, saying she had “seen the impact of his service.” 

“Mayoral control was not meant to exclude the voices of parents and this situation is an example of how important authentic community engagement is to the success of our students,” Nolan’s statement said. 

The flap over the superintendents has followed other missteps as Adams, who became mayor in January, fights to keep his control over the school system

 He has failed to appoint a full Panel for Educational Policy, resulting in two high-profile – and rare – votes to reject some of his administration’s proposals. He also had to cancel his own rally in support of mayoral control after flight delays stranded him in Los Angeles, where he had taken a campaign-funded trip to speak on a panel hosted by the Milken Institute about “digital transformation.” With mayoral control set to expire June 30, Adams has reportedly postponed until this week a trip to Albany to lobby state lawmakers on the matter.

Christina Veiga is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on school diversity and preschool. Contact Christina at cveiga@chalkbeat.org.

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