2004-12-10 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

At one time, in the 1960’s, when the decentralization of schools first began, “Community Control” was the buzzword of the day and parents had a strong say in the selection of school supervisors.

Today, despite the fact that both Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein repeatedly argue that parents are the most important component of a child’s education and are more involved than ever in the city’s schools, the fact is that parents have only a minor say in who the school supervisors will be in their children’s school.

Back in those exhilarating first days of community control, before some community school boards, including ours, became poster boys for graft, cronyism and racial profiling, parent associations and those school boards teamed up to identify, vet and choose local principals and assistant principals.

In those days, there were three levels to the appointment process for principals and assistant principals.

In fact, supervisors had to pass a very difficult test and prove that they could speak, read and write English before they could be appointed – horrors of horrors (so did teachers, by the way, but that’s another story).

The process in those days called for the parent association committees to choose the most viable candidates from among the applications and resumes that were submitted. They would interview the candidates and pass the names of the top ten candidates to the district superintendent. In Level II, the superintendent would interview the ten candidates and pass the names of his or her top five to the school board. The school board, which was made up of nine people elected by the community, then made the final choice.

Granted, those final choices were often made more on race, friendship and family connections than on competency, but that still happens today, when the community has little say in the process. What has changed? Nothing, except for the fact that the decisions are no longer with the community.

After the corruption and cronyism came to light, in large part because former District 27 Superintendent Cole Genn wore a wire and taped his conversations with our school board, the system changed and School Leadership teams, made up of teachers, parents, administrators and union personnel were added to the mix and the school boards could no longer make the final choice. That choice was made by the superintendent from names submitted by those leadership teams.

In both cases, parents were involved in the initial choices, gleaning a reasonable list from a myriad of applications. That is no longer the case under the recent school governance law and the mayor’s move to take over the school system.

The new C-30 regulation, promulgated by the Chancellor in November of 2003, changes the game.

Now, there are two levels to the selection process rather than three and the appointment is made by the community superintendent (who is chosen not by the community, but by the Regional Superintendent), following evaluation of candidates conducted by the Local Instructional Supervisor (LIS) and that community superintendent. They choose 3-5 candidates for the school leadership team to look at. The school leadership team cannot go outside those choices – they are required to pick one of the 3-5 candidates chosen by the LIS.

I know of one case in an Arverne public school where the then-superintendent sent three names to the committee – the person who he wanted for the job, an assistant principal at the school who was widely disliked and a third person who could barely speak English. It was a lock for the person who that superintendent wanted for the job and who remains in the job today. That’s not a choice, that’s an echo of community input.

Today’s Level I committee is made up of one supervisor from the school, two teachers (appointed by the school’s UFT chapter), one school support staff member and four to seven parents.

At one time, when it was difficult to get parents involved in the process, it was often difficult to choose a principal. Today, however, the process allows for the superintendent to appoint people to the committee should not enough parents be available.

After the Level I Committee has rated the 3-5 candidates presented by the LIS, their rating sheets, in rank order, go back to the community superintendent, who makes the final choice. That choice is subject to veto by the Regional Supervisor.

Do parents have any real say in that process? You can decide for yourself, but I don’t think so and that has led to more cronyism, nepotism and other ism than ever enjoyed by the discredited school boards.

The new Community Education Councils, made up of eleven parents elected by parent association leaders, has no say whatsoever in the process.

So much for parent input. Things have gotten so bad that one entire CEC in Brooklyn has reportedly considered quitting in protest of the fact that it can’t even get information on how money is being spent in their schools.

For the appointment of interim acting supervisors, the process is even less community-oriented. The LIS can make a choice with no further oversight.

Let’s look, for example, at MS 180.

While Department of Education sources told me that there are now eight C-30 processes going on in Rockaway, including John Comer at MS 180, parent and union sources at a number of those schools tell me that committees have yet to be formed and that the process is not yet underway.

And, although the DOE Website does not list Comer and the others as Interim Acting (IA), Alicia Maxey, a senior writer for the DOE says that IA’s are not listed as such on the Website.

In any case, the C-30 regulation requires that the process begin within 45 days of the declaration that a vacancy exists and the DOE list that was sent to me says that there are vacancies at MS 53, PS 106, MS 180, MS 198 (although Angela Logan has been there for nearly two years), PS 253, The Frederick Douglas Academy VI High School (at FRHS), Far Rockaway High School itself and The Channel View School For Research (although Pat Tubridy ran the ALPS Program for many years). As far as I can figure out, there is no ongoing C-30 process at any of the schools and the DOE will not comment on specific schools.

That means, effectively, that of the nineteen schools in Rockaway, eight, slightly less than half, have new principals.

At MS 180, for example, for the process to have been legal, the school’s then-LIS, Karen Stavis, (who has now reportedly been reassigned to another region position in the wake of a recent problem in the building where a teacher alleged the principal had manhandled her), should have looked at all of the applications along with District 27 Superintendent Michelle Lloyd-Bey within a 45-day period. That has not been done, but let’s move on with our hypothetical.

Lloyd Bey and Stavis should then have chosen 3-5 candidates to go to the school leadership team, which should have rated those applicants and reported back to Lloyd-Bey, who should have made the final choice.

Of course, none of that happened and nobody will say why.

As an aside, one of the selection criteria in the C-30 regulations is that candidates for principal should have a “Demonstrated Ability to set high standards for all students and to develop high quality educational programs targeted to student achievement.”

It is hard for me to understand, especially after 30 years in the system, how an acting principal with less than ten years as a teacher and one year as an assistant principal in a large school with at least six assistant principals, could have demonstrated that qualification, but nobody seems to be addressing that question either.

It has been pointed out on a number of occasions that the Brooklyn superintendent who first appointed Regional Superintendent Kathleen Cashin as a principal when she had no experience as an assistant principal (that’s what she once told me), was named Comer. Coincidence? In addition there are at least two other Comers working in the district. If the discredited school board had done something that blatant, it would have been taken to task. Now, nobody seems to care.

In any case, parents are out and administrators chosen solely by Cashin are in. Some people like that. Some don’t. Only time will tell which group is right. Unfortunately, our kids might well suffer while we are finding out the truth of the matter.

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