the Quality of Leadership That Cultivates a Learning Environment
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
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
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. #
Levy is the president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: email@example.com.
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