Out of the Past in
the Sunshine State
There I was, sleepily channel surfing while lazing before
the television during a recent vacation when I thought I heard voices from
the past: members of the old NYC Board of Education. I knew that was impossible
because a) I was in Florida and b) that Board no longer exists. So why would
the cable programmer run videos of meetings at 110 Livingston St.?
Well, of course
they wouldn’t. The board meeting
in question was the Miami-Dade County School Board. But it could have been
any NYC school board meeting of the past 20 years, so familiar were the school
lingo, pedagogic jargon and strategic proposals. And leading the presentation
was none other than Dr. Rudy Crew, the new Superintendent of Schools in Miami-Dade
County and a former Chancellor of the NYC Board of Education.
Now that caught
my attention! Talk about, to quote Yogi Berra, “deja vu all over again.”
As I listened
to Superintendent Crew, I remembered the passion and hope that every Chancellor
in recent years brought to our system. Dr. Crew, Dr. Ramon Cortines, Dr.
Joseph Fernandez—they and their predecessors
all set out to reshape NYC’s schools backed by support from the community-at-large,
politicians and from school personnel.
But they all quickly departed, with incomplete plans and
goals unattained, leaving behind a school system adrift, communities disappointed
and school leaders angry and betrayed.
Dr. Crew’s voice brought me out of my reverie as
he introduced a plan to use technology to determine how students fared, how
schools were meeting student needs and how this would help failing, “priority
schools”. My trip down memory lane continued when Dr. Irving Hamer
appeared on the screen. A former NYC Board of Education member, Dr. Hamer’s
presentation sounded awfully familiar. I quickly recognized his plan was “Chancellor’s
District” redux. (The Chancellor’s District was probably the
only strategy employed in NYC that helped failing schools become more successful.)
soon became tiresome but only because I had witnessed it first hand in the
mid-1990s. I wish Dr. Crew and his team success. The children of Miami-Dade
desperately need a strong advocate; the educational problems they face are
similar to NYC’s.
This program fit in seamlessly with my recent musings
on the history of our chancellors. This retrospective began a few months
ago when I met former Chancellor Ray Cortines, an educator whose only interest
was in the children but who understood the investment of the various stakeholders
in our schools. A vicious Mayor Guiliani bullied Mr. Cortines out of NYC.
In retrospect, it was a great loss for our schools.
After a long history of chancellors from within the educational
profession (with the noted exception of Frank Macchiarola), we seem to have
moved away from educational leadership.
In 2000, Citigroup lawyer Harold Levy took over, and in
2002, our current Chancellor, a prosecuting attorney and CEO, was handed
the reins. Is there a pattern here? Will the next Chancellor be a real estate
attorney? Will a Chancellor with an education background become persona non
grata at Tweed Hall?
I think that’s a shame if that’s the case.
Our earlier chancellors, all with high levels of expertise and many with
good ideas, were broken by NYC’s politics not because they were poor
candidates for the job. Under the new system, with the city’s Mayor
and Chancellor working together, a Ray Cortines or a Rudy Crew could bring
not only good management skills to the table, but pedagogic talents as well.
Since education is supposed to be at the core of what
a school system provides, it would seem to make sense to have school system
leaders who are both administrators and educators.#
Jill Levy is president of the Council of School Supervisors