Inside baseball

Change in city schools' data czar as number-crunching goes on

Martin Kurzweil, right, spoke on a panel discussion in June, weeks before leaving the Department of Education.

As the city prepares to release another edition of performance grades to more than 1,700 schools in the coming weeks, it will be doing so without the person who was behind the project last year.

Martin Kurzweil, a lawyer who most recently oversaw data-crunching for the Department of Education, exited this summer to take an academic fellowship at Columbia University Law School.

Kurzweil’s departure is part of a steady drip of directors and program leaders to have exited the department in recent months. This summer also saw the departures of Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez; Rodriguez’s deputy in special education, Lauren Katzman; and public affairs director Lenny Speiller. In the spring and winter, the department lost its top lawyer and communications chief, as well as most of its press officers. Jessica Scaperotti, promoted in July to take over the newly consolidated External Affairs office, left in August.

“It’s a great loss,” said Clara Hemphill, senior editor of The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, who worked with Kurzweil often when presenting school data on InsideSchools, the website she runs. “He’s a really smart, good guy who understood that there’s more to schools than numbers.”Middle management turnover has long been an issue at the department. But with Mayor Bloomberg’s term ending soon, every departure could be considered a possible warning sign. Already, insiders say experienced and talented officials no longer view some city agencies as an attractive place to work.

Kurzweil, who joined the education department in February 2010, handled a number of initiatives that sought to assess and measure the performance of teachers, principals, and schools in the New York City School system. As the executive director of the city data and accountability office, his portfolio included the progress reports and school surveys, two measures that are regularly cited by top officials in school closures. Kurzweil also gathered data and interpreted state policies required of the No Child Left Behind law.

This summer, one of Kurzweil’s final projects for the department included verifying data to comply with another state mandate: New York State’s evaluation law, which will link student performance on standardized tests to teacher evaluations.

Before he joined the department, Kurzweil practiced law at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, but his background was steeped in academic research. As a 22-year-old research assistant, Kurzweil gathered data on the admissions processes from 19 colleges and crunched them based a broad range of demographic and socioeconomic factors. That work led to a book about the research.

But Kurzweil, a volunteer tutor for high-need middle school students in Boston while he attended Harvard University, has made it clear that although he originally thought data could be used as a solution to problems facing the public school system, his work at the department changed his mind.

“I think I have really grown to appreciate the value of other non-quantitative measures of school quality,” Kurzweil said at an InsideSchools event that unveiled its own version of school report cards this summer.

“I thought that school evaluation was a problem with a solution and one that you could reach by logic or math,” he added. “I very quickly realized how complicated it is.”

Kurzweil declined to be interviewed, but he said in a statement that he was most proud of his work on aligning the school progress reports to measurements of college and career readiness.

In returning to academia, Kurzweil said he will focus on education law and policy.

“Although I will miss working so closely with my smart and dedicated colleagues at Tweed, networks, and schools, I look forward to focusing on issues of equity, educational quality, and system design from a new perspective,” Kurzweil said in the statement.

Former deputy chancellor Eric Nadelstern, among the top aides to leave the department following Klein’s resignation, said he didn’t expect middle management departures to have a big effect of the city’s ability to carry out its major initiatives, which include the special education overhaul, common core standards rollout and forthcoming teacher evaluations.

“When the deputy chancellors start running for the hills, that’s when you have to start worrying,” Nadelstern said.

Simone D’Souza, who served as a deputy under Kurzweil for more than a year and who helped lead the work on developing the college readiness metrics, will take over his responsibilities. D’Souza previously worked at Ascend Venture Group, a private investment firm, and Goldman Sachs. In between, she earned master’s degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in business administration and education.

Superintendent search

Nashville school official is one of four finalists to become Newark’s next superintendent

Sito Narcisse

A top Nashville schools official is one of four finalists vying to become Newark’s next superintendent.

Newark’s school board has not announced the finalists, but Sito Narcisse, currently chief of schools of the 88,000-student Metro Nashville Public School system, is in the running, Chalkbeat has learned. Narcisse, who has also been a high-ranking official in two large Maryland school districts and a principal in Boston and Pittsburgh, confirmed the news on Monday. The son of Haitian immigrants who spoke French-Creole at home as a child growing up on Long Island, he later helped open two high schools for recent immigrants who were still learning English.

The other finalists, Chalkbeat has previously reported, are former Baltimore city schools chief Andres Alonso, Newark Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory, and Newark Assistant Superintendent Roger Leon. (Alonso previously declined to comment, and Leon did not respond to an email.)

Newark’s last state-appointed superintendent, Christopher Cerf, stepped down on Feb. 1 when the school board officially regained control of the district after 22 years of management by the state. As the district transitions back to local supervision, it must adhere to a state plan that stipulated that there be a national search for the next superintendent and three finalists for the full board to vote on. However, the state last month granted a request by the board to name four finalists instead of three.

The finalists will introduce themselves to the public at a forum on Friday, though the audience will not be allowed to ask questions. The school board will then interview the candidates in private on Saturday, before they are expected to make their selection at the public board meeting on May 22.

Narcisse was also a semifinalist for the superintendent position in Duval County, Florida until Monday, when the school board there voted not to advance him to the second round of interviews, according to the district’s website. (Unlike Newark, that school system posted all the candidates’ applications online and will livestream the school board’s interviews with the finalists.)

Alonso, the other candidate from outside Newark, was recently in the running to become Los Angeles’ next superintendent before withdrawing his name last month. Both he and Narcisse may face an uphill battle in Newark, where several board members and many residents have said they would prefer a local educator to run the school system now that it is back in local hands after decades of state oversight.

In an interview Monday, Narcisse told Chalkbeat that if he was hired in Newark he would work hard to get to know the district and “become a part of that community.” He added that many of the schools he oversaw in Tennessee and Maryland served low-income students who dealt with trauma and poverty similar to the kinds faced by many Newark students.

“I know I’m not from Newark,” he said. “But the children of Newark have the same set of issues, the same set of challenges.”

Narcisse began his career as a high-school French teacher in a suburban district outside Nashville, before opening a public school in Pittsburgh and then taking over a struggling high school in Boston. He later held district leadership roles in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he helped design the new schools for immigrants still learning English.

In 2016, he became chief of schools for the Metro Nashville system, the second-highest position in the district, where he is responsible for overseeing 169 schools. In that role, he helped establish a high school where students can earn associate’s degrees, brought new science and technology programs into the middle schools, and participated in a public-private partnership to boost students’ reading skills, he said. His salary is $185,000 per year, according to his application for the Duval County position.

He said that he has absorbed several lessons over the years on how to improve struggling schools: Find a strong principal, provide lots of staff training, and invest in extra support services for students. He also cited another lesson that could be especially apt in Newark, where many residents rejected the sweeping policy changes enacted by Cami Anderson, a prior state-appointed superintendent.

“The other part is to not to do reform to them — but to be a part of the work with them,” he said, referring to community members. “That’s how change and sustainability happens.”

family matters

Lashing out at de Blasio administration, Mulgrew says educators lack paid parental leave because of ‘gender bias’

PHOTO: Philissa Cramer
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew tore into the city Monday for not providing paid parental leave to city teachers, calling the situation a case of “gender bias.”

Mulgrew, whose union is 77 percent women, was among the leaders testifying about the need for a paid parental leave policy Monday at a joint hearing of the City Council’s committees on education and civil service and labor.

In some of his harshest criticism of the de Blasio administration, Mulgrew criticized city leaders for saying leave should be negotiated in contract talks and come with concessions.

“I believe this is clearly gender bias on behalf of the City of New York and I do believe now it’s being used completely as a bargaining chip against our union, the union with the high female [membership],” Mulgrew said. “So I’m quite aggravated and pissed off at the city on this whole thing.”

Under the Department of Education’s current policy, teachers who want paid leave after having a baby must use accrued sick days. The policy applies only to birth mothers, not educators who become parents through surrogacy or adoption.

The UFT’s fight, spurred in part by a petition that went viral last fall, comes after the city extended six weeks of fully paid time off to its non-union workforce in 2016, covering about 20,000 managerial employees.

The city has pointed out that those workers made concessions, including giving up raises and vacation days, in exchange for their leave. The administration has also estimated that extending this program to all UFT members could cost $1 billion over four years.

Bob Linn, the city’s labor commissioner, testified Monday that paid leave was an issue that would be addressed during negotiations with the UFT, whose contract expires in November. “We will be reaching agreements on this issue,” he said.

Here’s what three UFT members who spoke Monday told the council:

Carolyn Dugan, a special education teacher in Manhattan at PS/IS 180

“I went into labor at my school because I was trying to save all my sick days for my maternity leave.
I wanted to maximize the little time I had with my newborn, so instead of taking a few days to rest before the baby was born, I worked up to very last moment and I ended up going into labor at

Eric Rubin-Perez, a school counselor at the John F. Kennedy Jr. School in Queens

“I had managed to save over 65 days in my bank that I had always planned on using for child care leave. I attended a UFT workshop on paternity leave in the fall of 2013. To my shock, I learned that as a father I was only allowed to use three personal days. It didn’t matter how many days I had saved in my bank, I was not able to use any of them. All those times I made the treacherous commute in the snow to my school in Elmhurst, Queens, from my home in Suffolk County, or when I came back to work after oral surgery didn’t matter, because I could not use any of my days. My husband who worked on Long Island got six weeks of paid paternity leave so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get anything.”

PHOTO: Jessica Jean-Marie
Teacher Jessica Jean-Marie returned to work last week.

Jessica Jean-Marie, teacher in New York City public schools

“Last week, I returned from maternity leave after 11 weeks from having my second child. I tried working until I went into labor so that I could have a full 12 weeks — six weeks using sick days and six weeks off payroll on unpaid child care leave — at home with my son. I couldn’t do it. The physical pain and the mental stress became too much. I worked up until the week of my due date, hoping my son would come sooner than later so I can maximize my leave. He arrived three days past due.”