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New York City Governance Forum

A conference to discuss and reflect on the new governance model for New York City public schools was held on February 6 at TC.

The New York State Legislature recently changed decentralization laws to give Schools Chancellor Rudolph Crew new powers to appoint superintendents and transfer ineffective school principals.

The conference, Re-Centralization or Strategic Management? A New Governance Model for the New York City Public Schools, featured a keynote address by Crew, who asked educators and parents to suspend their ideas of what centralization meant to schools in the past. Instead, they should see the new law as an opportunity to make the system stronger.

He said it is important to determine what is working and what is not, and how to work with schools that are at different levels of performance.

"I refuse to accept such tremendous variability for our children," Crew said. "The obligation of the system is to provide greater direction, influence, control where necessary and removal where necessary, and not stand on the principle that 'This is not our domain.'"

The law, he explained, offers direction to low-performing schools, facilitation to performing schools, and autonomy to high performing schools, in an effort to lead schools to perform at a higher level.

Crew noted that the performance criteria of an individual school would grow according to the gains in the school, not according to non-assessed tests.

After Crew's comments, a series of breakout sessions were offered where participants could focus on different aspects of the law.

David Bloomfield, a lecturer at TC and co-author of a monograph about the law, explained to participants how to approach the breakout sessions. He said that the new law is "not just a centralized model. It depends upon all involved to make it work," he stressed. "We need to remember that this law gives community superintendents the same authority as the chancellor."

He noted that school board members are important as representatives of the community in creating policy and in the reappointment of a superintendent.

He added that parents are a key force in holding officials accountable.

In one session on accountability, participants discussed how to measure the success of a school when performance changes from year to year.

Principals expressed the concern that the media is quick to blame them for low performance, when actually their hands are tied in how much authority they have to execute their plans.

Supporters of the new law argued that it's not an either/or situation. They said that it's an opportunity to shape the system and move forward.

Former mayoral candidate Ruth Messinger, who was a participant in the session, said: "Principals should start defining the barriers that make it impossible to run their schools the way they want to."

After the breakout sessions, Judith Rizzo, Deputy Chancellor for Instruction, Ann Horowitz, who deals with performance-based budgeting in the Chancellor's office, and Bruce Cooper, a professor of education at Fordham University and co-author with Bloomfield of a monograph about the law, answered questions from the audience. Rizzo fielded most of the questions, many of which came from parents.

Topics ranged from how to direct superintendents to implement policies to removing tenured teachers and principals.

Rizzo emphasized that changes won't happen overnight. The priority has been on educational strategies, she said. The improvement of facilities will be a secondary focus later.

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