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Gearing Up For The Changes

by Jessica Wolff, Jul 22, 2003
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School is out for most New York City students, yet many of the city's educators and school officials are still cramming. They will be hard at work all summer to try to get the newly reorganized school system up and running by the time students return in September.

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Over the past month, the sketchy outlines of this new system have been filled in a bit. For starters, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein officially settled a lawsuit, brought by Senator Carl Kruger, Assemblyman Steve Sanders, and others, that threatened to stall reorganization plans. The suit charged that the restructuring was illegal because it eliminated community school district superintendents without permission of the legislature.

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However, the terms of the settlement changed the new administrative structure of the schools very little. The old high school superintendencies and community school districts will still be subsumed into ten new instructional divisions run by regional superintendents. As planned, 113 “local instructional supervisors” will oversee instruction in clusters of schools within the divisions. Thirty-two of these "LIS's" (rhymes with kisses), as they are called by the Department of Education, will also be designated as community school district superintendents, will maintain a small district office, and will work with the parent and community members who will sit on the "district education councils,” which are the groups that will replace the community school boards.

All of the local instructional supervisors have now been appointed. Former principals, district instructional personnel, staff developers, and superintendents are among those who were tapped for the new positions. Each supervisor has charge of a network of ten or so schools.

The groups of schools that make up each new network have also been announced. In composing the networks, as well as in assigning local instructional supervisors to them, the regional superintendents were given broad discretion. Chancellor Klein and the Department of Education asked only that the groupings ease the transition to a system that runs more seamlessly from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The ten regional superintendents interpreted this in different ways and took a variety of approaches to creating the networks. As a result, some networks mix elementary, middle and high schools under the same local instructional supervisor. Others consist mostly of same-level schools. Some mix schools from different community school districts or mix high- and low-performing schools. Other networks consist of similar schools or schools that are geographically close.

Many parents, educators, and advocates support the principle behind the new networks. They like the idea of having administrators responsible for a manageable number of schools and focused on instruction. They saw potential in networking neighborhood elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as in clustering schools with similar philosophies so they could support one another. But, in the weeks since the networks have been created, some have expressed skepticism about the methods used to cluster schools and disappointment with the results. They worry that some schools' special qualities, once supported by their district offices, will be neglected or get homogenized within the new structure.

The official role of parents and community members in the governance of school system has also been determined. On July 9, Governor George Pataki signed legislation replacing community school boards with community district education councils. The new district councils will each have nine parent members selected by the parents associations from that district. Each council will also have two community members who are to be appointed by the borough presidents and a nonvoting student member, appointed by the district superintendent.

As with the boards they replaced, the councils' duties are largely advisory. They will hold monthly meetings with the superintendent to discuss the district's educational progress, submit an annual performance evaluation of the district's leadership to the chancellor, hold a hearing on the district's annual capacity needs and review the districts' educational programs and their impact on student achievement. No one is yet sure how (or how well) the councils' district-defined responsibilities will relate to the new network structure.

Parents with questions about how all these changes may affect their children's schooling can go to the Department of Education's Learning Support Centers for a full range of information and service or they can visit their district office. They can also call the Chancellor's Parent Hotline, 718-482-3777. Parents of high school students should call the Chancellor's Parent Hotline or go to their Web site to find the instructional division in which their high school is located.

Jessica Wolff is a public school parent and Director of Policy Development at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit coalition working to reform New York State's education finance system to ensure adequate resources and the opportunity for a sound basic education for all students in New York City. The views expressed are her own.


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