principal principles

New York City closes the door on Mayor Bloomberg’s boot camp for principals, marking end of an era

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Joel Klein and Carmen Fariña attended the final Aspiring Principals graduation in June.

A high-profile principal training program that started with a bang under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has gone out with a whimper.

The Aspiring Principals Program, a cornerstone of former Chancellor Joel Klein’s approach to the school system, graduated its final class in June and will no longer train new school leaders in New York City.

Since 2003, the fast-track principal training program has been run under the auspices of the NYC Leadership Academy, a nonprofit organization initially launched as an alternative to the city’s traditional process, in which educators work their way up through the system over time.

But the Aspiring Principals Program was also a mechanism for Klein to carry out his reform agenda by training would-be principals like CEOs (former GE executive Jack Welch once chaired the Academy) and holding them accountable for boosting school performance.

Early on, the program trained close to 90 aspiring principals per year, often younger teachers looking to vault into leadership positions, Academy officials said. It originally included an intensive summer training followed by a paid year-long residency shadowing an experienced principal, and over 14 years, the program produced 466 city principals.

The decision to end the principal training program comes alongside a shakeup to another longstanding relationship with a non-profit organization. Chalkbeat reported earlier this month that the city will not renew its contract with TNTP, a reform-oriented organization that helped recruit and train roughly 20 percent of the city’s teachers — opting instead to run the program itself.

City officials said they ended the principal training program for the same reason they brought the teacher training program in-house.

“It was just a smart move on the [education department’s] part to take what we’ve learned from our partners and make sure that we internalize it ourselves,” said Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg.

Asked whether ending the principal training program amounted to a rejection of the business-style leadership Klein espoused, Weinberg indicated that the education department had shifted its thinking. “It takes specific things to run GE, but it’s a different thing than running a school,” he said.

Still, the decision to end the program is not likely to have a sudden effect on principal recruitment and training. The education department had been scaling back the program for years, and in June, just 13 people graduated from it. (By contrast, the city hired 137 principals last school year.)

One of the ways the city reduced the program’s scope was by no longer sending prospective principals to spend a year embedded in another school — an expensive commitment given that the city had historically paid participants a full principal’s salary while training.

“As Carmen Fariña came on board, she wanted to build the district’s capacity to run their own leadership programs,” said Irma Zardoya, president and CEO of the NYC Leadership Academy, which now works with districts in more than two dozen states across the country. “They received significant funding to build capacity through their own leadership development programs. It’s happened gradually.”

The city has been leaning more heavily on its Leadership in Education Apprenticeship Program, which was developed with the NYC Leadership Academy and includes a summer training that borrows heavily from the Aspiring Principals curriculum.

But a key difference is that participants keep their jobs in their original schools while learning from their current principals, eliminating the cost of paying them to train elsewhere. In 2017, LEAP produced 86 graduates, many of whom will likely be hired as assistant principals first.

City officials emphasized that they will not completely cut ties with the NYC Leadership Academy, and the organization will continue to provide support to existing principals who request it. The education department has also continued to invest in a suite of other training programs, including partnerships with local universities, funded partly by the Wallace Foundation, which also helped finance the initial Aspiring Principals program.

The Aspiring Principals program has evolved and sparked controversy throughout its 14-year run. Some school communities pushed back against what they saw as heavy-handed management tactics, and others questioned how people with little teaching experience could quickly morph into effective school leaders. (Current Chancellor Fariña significantly increased the amount of teaching experience principals must have before landing the job.)

A 2009 study of the program’s effect in New York City found that it had some positive effects on student test scores, but a different analysis showed that schools run with Leadership Academy graduates had higher teacher turnover and lower grades on progress reports. The program also motivated a high-profile spat between education reform critic Diane Ravitch and former Chancellor Klein, who passed over Ravitch’s partner to run the principal training program. (After this story was published, Ravitch wrote in an email that she never asked Klein to hire her partner to run the program, and their disagreements were unrelated.)

Eric Nadelstern, a deputy chancellor under Klein who later ran a principal training program at Teachers College, said the program’s conclusion marks the end of an era. While Bloomberg and Klein wanted to shake up the system, he said, Fariña has sought to restore veteran educators to the role.

“Carmen thinks very differently,” he said. “She thinks people need to put in their dues.”

This story has been updated to include a response from Diane Ravitch.

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.

Innovation zone

Two more Denver schools win additional freedom from district rules

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat
Alex Magaña, then principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, greeted students as they moved between classes in 2015.

Two more Denver schools this week won more flexibility in how they spend their money and time. The schools will create a new “innovation zone,” bringing the district’s number of quasi-autonomous zones to three.

The Denver school board on Thursday unanimously approved the schools’ application to operate more independently from district rules, starting in January.

The new zone will include Grant Beacon Middle School in south Denver and Kepner Beacon Middle School in southwest Denver. The two schools are high-performing by the district’s standards and follow a model that allows students to learn at their own pace.

With just two schools, the zone will be the district’s smallest, though Beacon leaders have signaled their intent to compete to open a third school in the growing Stapleton neighborhood, where the district has said it will need more capacity. The district’s other two innovation zones have four and five schools each.

Schools in zones are still district schools, but they can opt out of paying for certain district services and instead spend that money on things that meet their specific needs, such as additional teachers or aides. Zones can also form nonprofit organizations with their own boards of directors that provide academic and operational oversight, and help raise extra dollars to support the schools.

The new zone, called the Beacon Schools Network Innovation Zone, will have a five-member board of directors that includes one current parent, two former parents, and two community members whose professional work is related to education.

The zone will also have a teacher council and a parent council that will provide feedback to its board but whose members won’t be able to vote on decisions.

Some Denver school board members questioned the makeup of the zone’s board.

“I’m wondering about what kinds of steps you’re going to take to ensure there is a greater representation of people who live and reside in southwest Denver,” where Kepner Beacon is located, asked school board member Angela Cobián, who represents the region. She also asked about a greater representation of current parents on the board.

Alex Magaña, who serves as executive principal over the Beacon schools and will lead the new zone, said he expects the board to expand to seven members within a year. He also said the parent council will play a key role even if its members can’t vote.

“The parent council is a strong influence,” he said. “If the parent council is not happy, that’s going to be impacting both of the schools. I don’t want to undersell that.”

Other Denver school board members questioned the zone’s finances and how dependent it would be on fundraising. A district summary of the zone’s application notes that the zone’s budget relies on $1.68 million in foundation revenue over the next 5½ years.

Magaña said the zone would eventually seek to expand to four schools, which would make it more financially stable. As for philanthropic dollars, he said the zone would work to ensure any loss of revenue doesn’t hurt the schools’ unique programs or enrichment.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it won’t impact the schools,” he said.

Ultimately, Denver school board members said they have confidence in the Beacon model and look forward to seeing what its leaders do with their increased autonomy.