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Fariña puts superintendents back in charge

Most of 55 networks created by Bloomberg given the boot
New York Teacher
Miller Photography

Chancellor Carmen Fariña announces her restructuring plan during the Association for a Better New York breakfast meeting on Jan. 22.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced on Jan. 22 the end of the 55 school networks created by the Bloomberg administration and the introduction of a new structure that gives greater oversight and responsibility to superintendents.

“Beginning in the fall of 2015, superintendents will support and supervise schools, period,” Fariña said during remarks at an Association for a Better New York breakfast meeting.

She also announced the creation of seven borough field support centers — two in Brooklyn, two in Queens and one in each of the other boroughs. The centers will be staffed with experts in instruction, operations, safety and health, student services, teaching English language learners and special education.

Principals, she noted, will retain control over their budgets and hiring.

The new support centers will open in the summer, and the new system will launch in September.

UFT Michael Mulgrew applauded the restructuring.

“It’s a welcome contrast to the previous administration, which left schools to sink or swim,” he said. “Chancellor Fariña’s initiative is designed to provide schools with the tools and advice they need to become and stay successful.”

In the previous structure created by former Chancellor Joel Klein, principals contracted with a network to provide an array of operational and academic support services. Schools from different boroughs often belonged to the same network, making coordination difficult. Many educators derided the networks for their inconsistency and lack of accountability. The network system also sidelined superintendents, who had almost no staff and served mainly to evaluate principals.

In the new structure, each superintendent will have six staff members. At least two of those staff members will be assigned to a welcome center for parents and families.

Fariña said the new structure will give her a clearer picture of what’s working and what’s not, and superintendents will understand what is expected of them. The centers will also promote one of her key beliefs: Collaboration is better than competition to help schools succeed.

“The central element of our new approach is creating clear accountability and giving superintendents the authority and resources they need to improve what happens in our schools and in our classrooms,” she said.

The move was long expected. Fariña has expressed her preference for clear lines of authority. In laying the groundwork for the change, Fariña had superintendents reapply for their jobs last summer, and all new superintendents must now have at least 10 years of teaching experience, with at least three years as a principal.

Not all the networks were banished. Fariña praised the nonprofit organizations that performed well, including New Visions for Public Schools, the Urban Assembly and CUNY, as valued partners that will continue providing support to their schools as affinity groups. But those groups will now report to the superintendent and be held accountable for results, she said.

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