When students return to school Monday September 8, the buildings, the classrooms and the desks will all look the same, but since July 1, the bureaucracy, that supervises the New York City school system, has undergone a profound restructuring.
With the slogan – Children First – Mayor Michael Bloomberg has revamped the city public school system by centralizing the bureaucracy and unifying the curriculum. Following an out-of-court lawsuit settlement in June, the school boards were dissolved and the 32 school districts were consolidated into 10 regions. Rockaway children in school district 27 are now part of Region 5, which is overseen by Regional Superintendent Kathleen Cashin.
The Wave recently spoke with Cashin about her new responsibility and the drastic changes the city schools have undergone since the children left in June…
• As the regional superintendent for Region 5, what will your duties be?
To supervise the local instructional superintendents; to make sure the Chancellor’s Children First initiatives are fully implemented; to make certain that there is focused teamwork, that the principals and teachers and parents work as a team to improve the schools. Region 5 has 13 local instructional superintendents. Focused teamwork to implement Children First initiatives.
• What are the Children First initiatives?
First, to have a coherent curriculum. If a child moves from place to place within the city, that the same curriculum, the same methodologies, the same approaches to literacy and mathematics will be implemented to facilitate the continuity of instruction.
• What will be your approach in dealing with three school districts, all at once?
The approach that we are going to take in improving pedagogy and being reflective on our choices and prioritizing the children – will be the priority for Region Five; whatever part of the region you live in. Our philosophy is and will be and will continue to be every child is important, and the significance of this cannot be overstated. Children’s futures are resting upon how well we do our job, how well we improve instruction, and I take this very seriously for every child in my region whether it’s in Queens or Brooklyn or the Rockaways or East New York.
We expect to see in every school, in every part of the region - differentiated instruction. Children’s needs are different in every school, in every classroom within a school. Therefore, it’s not just the children in Brownsville that will get one curriculum and the children in Rockaway will get another. You need to differentiate how the curriculum is delivered; you need to differentiate the instruction regardless of where the child is you always see differences even within a classroom in a school, so that’s where the professional development comes in - providing the teacher with the tools to be able to meet the needs of the children. We don’t want to have the children fit into our instruction, we have to modify the instruction to meet the needs of the children.
• What will the local instructional superintendents do?
They’ll be supervising the principals. They’ll be visiting the schools. Supervising the coaches in the schools. Helping to provide the support in terms of professional development. Helping to transform the schools into an effective institution of learning.
Our focus is instruction. Improving the instruction in the schools. My primary focus is to improve the schools pedagogically and that’s what I intend to do.
• How will one student feel the change?
When you improve the instruction, you improve the educational environment, you improve a child’s chances of learning and doors open up when a child learns. And so, the improvement of instruction is monumentally important. The whole tone of the school changes when instruction improves. You don’t have the discipline problem in schools where there’s excellent teaching cause children are engaged. Otherwise they have to be entertained. When you engage a child because you improve the instruction the whole focus of the environment in the whole school improves.
• Will the demise of the school boards lead to decreased communication between parents and teachers?
Children First initiative is highlighting and promoting communication with parents, more than I’ve ever seen in my 30 years in the system. Every school will have a parent coordinator. We have never had that ever before. Every region will have a regional team leader – a parent person with parent support staff. Every possible avenue has been opened to promote parent communication; more than I have ever seen before. The regional offices will be opened in the evening. They’ll be targeted evenings and weekends to promote parents being able to come to a parent representative, a parent coordinator and express their concerns and ask for help. That has never happened before.
• How will school be different in September?
I would hope that even the first day we’d see a difference in many people’s perceptions. I hope they would see a change the first day. Just from looking at the schools cosmetically and then the substantive change takes more time, but I even hope that will begin because we are doing a lot of professional development over the summer. That will continue.
I think that a new day is dawning. I think that the children are definitely the priority in this administration, gutsy decisions have been made and that Region 5 is going to have the courage to implement these decisions. When a brave man takes a stand the spine of others stiffen. I think courage is contagious.