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New York City
March 2002

It’s the Quality of Leadership That Cultivates a Learning Environment
By Jill Levy

It is always a challenge to identify and implement the best practices in education. President Bush and the U.S. Congress tried to do just that in their latest version of the federal education legislation “Leave No Child Behind.” Yet their one size fits all approach from Washington simply cannot begin to approach the needs of students at the local level. That is why it is great to see local leaders take the initiative and focus on the educational needs of their communities and address their unique circumstances.

That is exactly what Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion did on January 29th. He challenged the Bronx to identify and then develop plans for implementing the best practices in education for his borough. At his request, each Bronx community school district superintendent was asked to participate and to identify a successful elementary school and middle school principal and to present their best practices to a taskforce of education and policy makers.

The taskforces goals — have 90 percent of the Bronx students graduate and either move on to post-secondary education or be equipped and qualified to hold a meaningful, lasting job. The taskforce also raised the education bar for the borough by aiming to reduce the borough’s dropout rate to below 10 percent and have the Bronx student body place in the state’s top 10 percent for reading and mathematics.

Of all of New York City’s boroughs, the Bronx faces some unique challenges. As New York City Regent Cortes-Vasquez outlined to the taskforce, “there are over 230,000 students enrolled in the Bronx – 9,000 over capacity.” To emphasize his point, he told the participants about the Bronx Community School District 10, the second most overcrowded school district in all of New York City at a whopping 70 percent over capacity.

Other statistics working against success for the Bronx include: the average annual income for Bronx wage earners is $27,000 as compared to a city average of $34,000 and a state average of $43,000; over one third of the borough’s population is under the age of 19; and 21 percent of the students come from single parents.

New York City Board of Education member Sandra Lerner tackled the issue head-on when she condemned the “6,500 temporary [students] seats in facilities not conducive to learning” and demanded that the taskforce focused its attention on the fact that “middle schools and high schools must be the priority.”

She further iterated that students have a right to “have a certified competent teacher who remains in the classroom.” Addressing the taskforce, she continued that in addition to competent teachers the taskforce must improve school facilities, promote better parental involvement and support strong leadership.

Yet, there is hope and a lot of potential for the city’s northern borough. School leader participants highlighted practices as technology and student uniform policies. Other common elements that were discussed with the taskforce included the need for ongoing professional development, creating a community of learners, high performance expectations, nurturing a secure and safe learning environment, and strong parental involvement.

Bronx High School Superintendent Norman Wechsler presented a radical plan for his borough’s high schools. He would “smash” the current high school admissions policy. He would then accommodate the needs of students by establishing 15 small high schools, that would create nurturing environments for the students. These small schools would also provide for sufficient staff planning time, emphasize high standards and provide for the staff’s professional development needs.

What is most fascinating is the one thread that all the best practices presented that evening had – echoes and reflections of Effective Leadership, as defined by Ron Edmonds. Each of the schools has a culture that celebrates success with high expectations for students and adults. Each presents a safe and secure learning environment with a focus on data-driven instruction. Most importantly, school leaders, teachers, and their staffs believe in a culture of life long learning not only for their students, but for themselves.

Which comes to the point that I made to the taskforce – when it is all said and done, it comes down to the qualities of leadership – strong, informed, energetic, passionate leaders who are able to communicate their vision with consistency and clarity.

Thank you Rose Cloonie, MS/IS 368; James Duffy, IS 275; Betty Gonzalez-Soto, CS 211; Marjorie Rios, IS 162; Grace Navarro, PS 135; Rachel Donnelly, PS 121; Gary LaMotta, PS 280; and Pablo LaSalle, PS 161 for your outstanding presentations. The quality of your leadership and that of your colleagues in the Bronx is something to be respected and cherished. #

Jill Levy is the president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA).


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
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