Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s long-awaited announcement of the closing of the school networks created by Joel Klein is a milestone worthy of celebration. It is a decisive break with an organizational approach that, however well-meaning, was designed to fail.
Many of the 55 networks, scattered across the city, were poorly equipped to help teachers and were inconsistent in their expertise and resources. Incredibly, low-performing schools did not receive extra support. And the networks were not accountable to anyone.
Those days are over. Under Fariña’s reorganization, which will launch in the fall, superintendents will be empowered with the authority and resources to support and supervise schools as well as to hold principals accountable. And the superintendents, in turn, will be accountable to Fariña.
The new system will have seven borough field support centers. When the centers open this summer, they’ll be staffed with professionals who can provide support in instruction, safety and health, human resources, student services and teaching children with special needs, among other things.
It’s a streamlined, common-sense approach. Superintendents will be the point of contact for parents. Schools will get help that is tailored to their needs from one easily accessible location. Because the centers are centrally located in the boroughs, it will be easier to foster the collaboration and sharing of strategies among teachers that Fariña has championed since taking office. Schools will no longer have to send staff to different boroughs for meetings with a distant support organization.
The new approach doesn’t toss everything out. Successful principals will retain control over budgets and hiring. And the nonprofit organizations that got it right within the old network system will still have a role to play as affinity groups — but this time within the jurisdiction of the superintendent, who will hold them accountable for results.
Fariña’s initiative presents a welcome contrast to policies from the previous administration that were devised by lawyers and other noneducators who had no clue how schools work. These changes are aimed at helping educators fulfill their mission of teaching and serving students.