system shakeup

City launches school-support centers, a key element of Fariña’s system shakeup

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s redesigned system for supporting and overseeing schools entered a new phase Wednesday with the official launch of seven new help centers where schools will turn for guidance on everything from budgeting to teacher training.

The centers have been slowly coming to life over the past several months, as their directors hired about 600 staffers who have helped principals craft their budgets for next year. With their formal kickoff July 1, the centers officially replace the previous administration’s system of about 55 smaller support teams called “networks.”

The education department sent notices and hosted informational sessions to prepare principals for the changeover, and several reported a smooth budgeting process at the centers. But even as the centers officially open their doors, some work remains to get them up and running: Their leaders must still fill about 15 percent of their positions and plan trainings available to schools this summer, officials said.

As hundreds of people transition into their new positions, basic logistics of the centers are still being hashed out. An employee at one center said staffers without desks or computers are working in conference rooms on Blackberries, and Bernadette Fitzgerald, director of one of the Brooklyn centers, said her team was still figuring out “where people will be sitting, how they’ll be collaborating,” but that things were proceeding as planned.

“It’s busy,” she said Tuesday, “and very exciting.”

The centers spring from the shakeup Fariña announced in January, a bid to create more uniformity across the city’s 1,600 district schools and equalize the support they receive. The overhaul shifted new authority onto the system’s 45 superintendents to supervise schools, and also made it their duty to get schools the help they need. But because each superintendent has a staff of just six to serve dozens of schools, they must outsource help for schools to the new “borough field support centers.”

While most of the networks served schools spread out over multiple boroughs, each new center — two in Brooklyn and Queens, and one in each of the other boroughs — will focus on schools in the same area. The centers range in size from 150 employees in the Bronx to 50 staffers on Staten Island, depending on the number of schools they will serve and those schools’ needs, officials said. The center directors hired some personnel from schools or outside the education department, but most came from the previous system of support networks and groups of networks called “clusters.”

Many of those former network employees who assisted schools with instructional matters such as analyzing student data or meeting the needs of students with disabilities only recently learned at which centers and in what roles they will now work. (Some who were unhappy with their placements are appealing them; officials said they will work with those people to find the right positions.) In an email last week, Fariña thanked those veterans of the previous system for their “patience, professionalism, and eagerness to help during this eventful year.”

“As we move ahead with our reorganization,” she wrote, “I will continue to turn to you in your new roles for support.”

Some of the first hires were former network staffers with experience helping schools with budgeting and hiring. They began calling principals into their centers last month to work on next year’s budget — a change for many who were used to network employees traveling to their schools or other nearby locations. To some, that signaled a larger shift: Whereas principals chose their networks and paid for their services, they are now assigned to their borough centers, which answer only to the education department.

“When someone works for you, it’s different,” a Queens principal said. “They want to make the customer happy.”

Still, that principal and several others said they received the same quality of service from their center when setting next year’s budget as they had from their networks. Nigel Pugh, principal of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching in Manhattan, said he was impressed when the center staffers asked him to talk about his school before they began crunching numbers.

“I’ve found the people to be highly responsive, well-selected and knowledgeable,” Pugh said.

Principals have yet to see how the centers help them with them with day-to-day business, from coaching teachers to handling discipline issues to running programs for non-native English speakers. The centers officially take over that role Wednesday, though most of those issues won’t arise until the new school year begins.

However, principals are already asking who at the centers will work with them on those issues, and how their superintendents will fit in. In the past, schools contacted the networks directly, but now superintendents are expected to be principals’ go-to people.

“Some of my members are still trying to figure out who’s doing what,” said principals union President Ernest Logan. He added that, in conversations with city officials, the union has “made it abundantly clear that we’re holding superintendents accountable for supporting schools.”

The new structure is designed to give schools more uniform guidance. To that end, the officials overseeing instructional support at each of the centers have been training together at education department headquarters, explained Kevin Moran, director of the Staten Island center.

They will then run workshops for principals and school staffers using a common training curriculum. While some principals have already started grumbling about the prospect of one-size-fits-all trainings, Moran said this approach offers “consistency and coherence.”

“There will be standard threads woven through all the curriculum” used in the trainings, he said. “These are the non-negotiables.”

In the past, the networks offered summer training sessions for schools. Officials said the centers will run workshops this summer, but first their directors must meet with superintendents and central office officials to determine what trainings are already being offered.

Some principals said it would be hard to take advantage of those offerings since teachers have already made travel plans. Julie Zuckerman, principal of Castle Bridge School in Manhattan, said her network used to run two-dozen or so workshops each summer on topics ranging from special-education teaching methods to math curriculum design. With her network now defunct and her new support center still getting off the ground, she said her teachers are left with less help to prepare for next school year.

“This is a lost summer,” she said.

Logan, the union president, said the centers and superintendents have the potential to serve principals better than the networks did by offering an additional layer of oversight, but only if the new system works as it’s designed to.

“This is very, very different,” he said, “and the jury is still out on what is going to happen.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.