Call it early spring cleaning: the city’s Department of Education is planning its third official reorganization of how schools receive support services in eight years.
Support organization leaders say the new plan involves decentralizing the city’s large service centers, which offer schools assistance with writing their budgets and handling the mountains of paperwork that pile up. Since 2007, a Brooklyn principal would call the Brooklyn Integrated Service Center for help with these tasks; now, she’ll turn to a small group that’s assigned to work with her school through her support organization.
The groups, called Children First Networks, are part of a model that has been quietly piloted for several years by Eric Nadelstern, the DOE’s chief schools officer. About 300 schools are already part of the CFNs, an expansion that took place last year and is now being extended to all of the city’s public schools. The networks are small — each has a staff of 13 staff members — and are meant to personalize the way schools receive non-academic, logistical support.
Under the new plan, all schools will bypass the ISCs and go straight to the smaller networks, putting the ISCs out of business. The CFNs will be aligned with existing support organizations so that, for example, a school in the New Visions for Public Schools support organization will be paired with one of the organization’s several CFNs, each of which will focus on only about 25 schools.
The DOE refused to comment on the changes, which it plans to announce officially later this week.
Michael Mulgrew, the president of the city’s teachers union, said the city’s schools have seen enough turmoil in the last few years and this latest change would only create confusion.
“At this point the schools feel completely isolated and unsupported,” Mulgrew said.
“With the ISCs, at least there are general places where you know you’re going to get the safety, the special education, the back office stuff that you need. Now you’re telling me you’re going to spread that among how many CFN networks, do you really think they have the capacity to deal with all these issues?” he said.
Sy Fliegel, president of the Center for Educational Innovation-Public Education Association, which has already had a CFN for a year, said the piloted reorganization had earned positive reviews from the principals he works with.
“It’s not like calling down to Tweed where you don’t know who you’re getting,” Fliegel said. “And principals seem to be much happier with it.”
The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents principals and the executive administrators who run each of the ISCs, is worried that the reorganization could cost ISC staff members their jobs.
A spokeswoman for CSA, Chiara Coletti, said the CFNs will be staffed by former ISC members, who will have to apply with support organizations for jobs with their CFNs.
Anita Batisti, who runs Fordham University’s support organization, said support organization leaders are still waiting to hear the details of exactly how the city is redrawing its bureaucratic lines.
When Bloomberg first took office, 32 individual district offices — plus separate offices for high schools, alternative schools, and special education schools — managed school operations. During Chancellor Joel Klein’s first reorganization of the school system, those districts were replaced by six offices serving 10 regions. In 2006, Klein revamped the structure again, creating a single Integrated Service Center with branches each of the five boroughs. During the 2006 reorganization, instructional services were also relocated, to a group of support organizations from which principals now choose one. Depending on who you ask, the third unofficial reorganization occurred last year when the city expanded the Children First Network pilot program from 90 schools to 300.
“It feels a little bit like we’re going full circle,” Coletti said. “Now we’ll have networks that are like a district system. The difference is the old district system was geographic, which was quite healthy,” she said.