2000-03-04 / Columnists

School Scope

by Howard Schwach

Matt Bromme was named by Community School Board 27 as its new superintendent at a special meeting last Monday night. The vote was 8-0 (Ernest Brown was away on vacation and excused). This is the first time in recent memory that the board chose a superintendent on the first ballot and unanimously. More usually, the board has been divided along both racial and ideological lines.

It is good to see and it is a tribute to the board and to the screening committee that came up with the five finalists.

Bromme’s nomination now goes to Acting Chancellor Harold Levy, who has 30 days to vote thumbs up or thumbs down.

There is no indication that Levy will turn down the board’s nomination, although nobody in the educational community has been able to get a viable "read" on Levy and what he wants.

Bromme can’t wait to get started for "real."

I would hope that (Levy’s review process) would occur as soon as possible," Bromme said. "It’s a very positive moment in my life."

There is no indication from Levy’s office on how long his review of Bromme’s nomination would take, but the indication was that, although the acting chancellor had a lot on his plate to decide upon, the decision would not be long in coming.

One of the big decisions that Levy has to make is whether he wants to keep the job he was drafted for when Rudy Crew ran back to the "Left Coast."

When Levy first took the job, he indicated that he had no interest in keeping it on a regular basis. He pointed to his "real" job at Citibank and indicated that he was anxious to get back to that world.

Board watchers are not sure that is the case any longer, however. They say that Levy looks comfortable in the position and that he has dropped hints that he might like to stay on.

The board, however, has just started a search process designed to drag a wide net over the world to find the right person to be the next chancellor.

The ad seeking "a chief executive officer to lead the largest school system in the country," ran in last Sunday’s New York Times. It will also run in school journals, dozens of ethnic newspapers, a few national newspapers from India to Greece and the ad will even appear at www.sixfigures.com.

The board has also hired two different executive search experts – one to find an educator and another to find a chief executive-type with no educational supervision experience or credentials.

The board calls these "nontraditional candidates." It seems that several of the board members (mostly corporate types themselves) have indicated that Levy’s performance to date has made them more enthusiastic about candidates with strong business backgrounds.

What has Levy done to improve education in this city in such a way to make the board enthusiastic? Let’s count the ways: He ordered that the board’s headquarters at 110 Livingston Street be cleaned up. He said that he wanted to cut up to 25 percent of the city’s "unnecessary school rules," but he has yet to say that they are and how he will cut them.

"Many of the chancellor’s regulations are redundant, antiquated and silly," he said. I agree, but it is easy to say that and it is much harder to do anything about it when lawyers and advocacy groups, who forced the rules in the first place, are waiting in the wings to sue the city.

"My goal is to limit the intrusion on management and instruction," Levy added. He has got a lot to learn.

He has also decreed that a teacher’s file follow the teacher upon transfer from one school to another. I like that idea and applaud him for it, but it has not changed education one wit.

He was hired to get the summer school program going and to move the plan to do away with social promotion. I have seen nothing to indicate that he is going to do either one in a timely and adequate manner.

Levy has to hire 17,000 teachers and some 2,000 administrators for the summer program. It is early March. It is already late in the game.

Last year the board needed 11,000 teachers and did not come close to meeting that goal. If all of the students who were supposed to attend school did so, the system would have broken down.

This year, the system has to insure that 320,000 "at risk" kids will actually attend the schools, that the schools will be adequately staffed and that they will maintain a reasonably comfortable learning environment.

That is not an easy thing to do. The planning should have begun two months ago. Postings asking for teachers (which have to be in place for a month or so) should have been up at the turn of the century. They are still not in place, and probably will not be in place for two or three weeks.

Instead, the board is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours of staff time in calling parents whose kids have been listed as being at risk. Those parents will be asked of they heard from the schools, if they were notified "in a timely manner" that their child was in danger of being left back. They will spend so much time checking a system that already has several checks and balances that they will not have time to actually plan to get the summer programs on line.

Crucial decisions on staffing and transportation issues have to be made in the next two weeks. Where does Levy stand on those issues? He is speechless.

Perhaps he is overwhelmed. Many people who first face this system are overwhelmed by it, and that includes chancellors who come from out of town.

That is why I think that the board should really choose two chancellors and that both should be homegrown.

Find a CEO type who can handle the business end of the system. Call that person chancellor for business affairs and operations. Find another person who is an educator who knows the system from within. Call that person chancellor for curriculum and instruction.

Find them and let them do their things. They system can only benefit from the duality and the expertise the two people will bring to the system.

That’s the ticket. Keep the mayor out of the decision-making process. He just wants control and he will destroy the system should he get that control.

The board already has its CEO. Let Levy keep the job. Then, find an educator who knows the system and will lead it for the next 10 years.

The system deserves on less.


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