Editorial: Compromised Principals

If you’ve noticed something rotten stinking up the city recently, you’re not alone. And this time, it’s not the garbage. The schools turnaround plan stinks. In fact, it reeks.

With one misguided (or manhandled, whichever you prefer) vote, 24 city schools will be forced to close, fire each and every teacher, get a new principal, hire new teachers, develop a new curriculum, and reopen in the fall as a new school with a new name.

Seems like a bit of a project, no?

So now we have 24 schools whose identity has been stripped away.They have no principals. No teachers. Not even so much as a loose curriculum. All that has been left in these schools, almost as an afterthought, are the students.

To make an enormous task even trickier, these brand new principals are tasked withhiring exactly 50 percent of the old teachers back. That’s right, 50 percent on the nose. These poor new principals don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

This whole plan was enacted as a way to make sure the schools get federal grant money.

The state, which handles the money, requires school districts to have a teacher evaluation system. The working theory is that the turnaround system will count as an evaluation, since the teachers will have to be reevaluated by default when they reapply for their jobs.

But if not enough of the old teachers are replaced, the school might not meet the federal guidelines, so it might not get the money.

The feds said to hire no more than 50 percent of the old teachers back. The city’s agreement with the teacher’s union said they have to hire at least 50 percent of old teachers back. That leaves us with exactly 50 percent, 24 times.

These principals have been set up to fail. Much like the students that will have to attend these frantically restructured schools in the fall.

It seems as if all the rush is to ensure – absolutely lock down – the federal grant money. But the turnaround plan doesn’t guarantee the schools will get the money.

There’s no guarantee whatsoever that this plan will be accepted by the state, even if the principals do manage to hire exactly 50 percent of the old teachers back. There’s not even a guarantee the state will accept the turnarounds as an evaluation system – that’s just the working theory.

We can’t even be sure. That’s the worst part. This whole thing could very well be for nothing. And there will be no way to tell until it’s done.

Our own dear mayor said that the school turnaround system was, “about much more than the money,” in his State of the City address in January.

If that’s true, then why is it so urgent we do this right now? Who is it helping? If the money isn’t an issue, why are we rushing to force this through?

Of course, at times like these, one has to wonder why the mayor is in charge of the schools to begin with. A background in education is not now, and will likely never be, a criterion to be the Mayor of New York City. So why then, is this person in charge of the schools?

If not for mayoral control, this turnaround plan would never have passed. The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) made it very easy to see this, by voting cleanly and decisively along the lines of who appointed them. Every single one of the mayor’s eight – that’s right, he gets enough representatives that he can do whatever he wants regardless of how strongly the city opposes him – voted without hesitation to shutter and reopen the 24 schools in question.

By the way, attempting to revamp one curriculum over the course of a summer is a lot of work. Ask any teacher. Yet now, while simultaneously rehiring the entire staff, these schools will allegedly revamp their entire curriculum. For the entire school. For 24 schools, to be precise. That means they plan to reassess every textbook. Every lesson plan. If they do it right, they should even look into the metrics they use to measure a successful assignment. This is the sort of project that takes a serious commitment of time and resources. It’s not something to be done lightly, or to be rushed through. If a curriculum that took decades to hone isn’t working, why should we believe something thrown together over the course of a summer will?

It might not matter to the mayor. His daughters are long finished with their school days. He doesn’t have kids in the schools right now, and if he did, you can be dead certain they would never see the inside of a public school. Maybe that’s the problem – our mayor doesn’t live here. He hasn’t known what it means to be a real New Yorker for quite some time now.

Real New Yorkers are tough. We are considered mean by most of the country. But we know that isn’t it. We’re not mean. We just don’t like to see the little guy get pushed around. Especially not when that little guy is only a kid, and just wants to keep the math teacher that he loves.

That’s the strange thing about us New Yorkers – for some reason, we got this odd notion into our heads that our children are the future. And we’re not ready to give up on them just yet. That’s why the members of the panel who represented real New Yorkers – not just the mayor – voted against the turnaround. Real New Yorkers would never get so turned around their backs were to their children.


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