principal power

New York City principals want to know: How much power will they have under Chancellor Carranza?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Richard Carranza, Houston Independent School District superintendent, hugs Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Some principals already bristling at the tighter controls they’ve faced under Mayor Bill de Blasio might feel uneasy when they read that incoming chancellor Richard Carranza’s centralized some power in the last school system he ran.

But perhaps they shouldn’t panic yet. Carranza also says he trusts principal decision-making — after all, he was a principal himself.

“I’ve been a principal in two different schools in two different states, so I tremendously have faith that principals can make great decisions at the local level,” Carranza said during his first press conference in New York City on Monday.

But, he added, “there are some things you cannot just decentralize. So you need to have some central direction.”

That sentiment echoes outgoing Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who reorganized the school system to allow superintendents more authority to shape instruction and ensure principals follow the rules. Without tighter oversight, Fariña has argued, schools could have uneven instruction and practices leading to greater inequality across the school system. That was a major shift from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his chancellors, who favored wresting decision-making out of the hands of central office staff and giving principals more power.

And indeed, in interviews with more than a dozen principals this summer, school leaders complained to Chalkbeat about intense scrutiny of their daily tasks bordering on micromanagement. Many said the more centralized management style came with endless emails, compliance items, and paperwork, that robbed them of precious time they could be in classrooms or working on more innovative education practices.

Some principals are hoping for relief from the new chancellor.

“The job under the current chancellor has definitely become stifling in certain ways,” said a principal from the Bronx who asked to remain anonymous to avoid criticizing his boss. “It’s just like big-ticket [education department] branded initiative after initiative that feels very disjointed and doesn’t feel connected to the work that’s happening here at schools.”

Other principals don’t see a disconnect between centralization and their goals. “As long as it’s in line with collaboration between schools with central supports, I think that’s a great way to grow our system,” said Anthony Cosentino, principal at PS 21 in Staten Island.

New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres said that how Carranza handles the school system’s management will be a defining part of his tenure.

“If he could reverse the centralizing legacy of Carmen Fariña I’d be a happier man,” Torres said. “The question mark for me is how he’s going to grapple with the centralizing legacy of his predecessor.”

Carranza’s past record on principal authority is mixed. Most recently, in Houston, he supported taking some budgeting power back from principals and said during Monday’s press conference that decentralization in Houston had “run amok.”

Instead of giving principals a pot of money and providing them with the full authority to spend, Carranza supported attaching restrictions to the funding in order to ensure each school had an adequate number of administrators, teachers, and other school staff, such as nurses. But this budgeting arrangement may have been specific to Houston — in an interview with a Houston television station, Carranza said he supported this change only because Houston was facing a dire budget situation.

“We’re not going to take innovation away from principals,” Carranza said in the interview. “But what we’re going to say to principals, instead of you getting a pot of money and then having to kind of knit together what your staffing is, it’s going to be really transparent.”

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke to principals, superintendents, and network officials last month.

Josephine Rice, the executive director of the Houston Association of School Administrators, said principals were vocal about their concerns when Carranza first proposed the budget changes. But he listened to their worries, and towards the end, principals felt they would receive more flexibility and that the plan was generally headed in the right direction, she said.

The model still has not been finalized and that leaves a lot of uncertainty among Houston principals at the moment, Rice said.

“While principals feel better about the staffing model,” she said, “they’re still not feeling good because there are so many questions that are out there.”

Houston Board trustee Sergio Lira said he would not expect Carranza to implement the same policy in New York unless it was necessary  and that Carranza’s style is to listen to educator concerns before acting. “Tell the principals [in New York] they’re lucky,” Lira said. “They’ve got a good guy.”

In San Francisco, where Carranza served as superintendent for four years, he attracted money from the Salesforce Foundation to start a Principal’s Innovation Fund, which awarded grants to principals and allowed them to allocate money as they saw fit. Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, praised Carranza’s decision to delegate authority to the principals in a recent New York Times story.

Carranza also stood by principals by respecting their choice to hire teachers from Teach for America, despite the school board’s opposition.

The new chancellor should resist the urge to stick to a centralized system, said David Baiz, a former East Harlem Middle School principal who left the position last year to to get his doctorate in education leadership at Harvard. Baiz believes that the current administration forced principals to follow central directives instead of doing what was best for their schools — and it’s something he hopes the new chancellor changes.

“I would suggest for him to find a way to bring innovation back to New York City,” Baiz said.

Alex Zimmerman contributed reporting.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”