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28th July
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, July 28, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

The revolving door is spinning at the Tweed Courthouse, a disturbing indicator of the disarray that is undermining Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to reform the public schools. Just a year after being handed control of the schools by the New York State Legislature, and just six weeks before students return to school, a number of top administrators are bailing out.

The most significant departure is the retirement of a regional superintendent, Shelley Harwayne, which was announced midday Friday. Whenever Chancellor Klein has what he believes will be perceived as bad news, one can be sure that it will be released in the afternoon on a Friday — insuring that it will be consigned to the low-circulation Saturday papers.
Ms. Harwayne has been the superintendent of Manhattan’s high-performing District 2. Overseeing the well-to-do Upper East Side and gentrifying areas such as TriBeCa, Ms. Harwayne has been in a no-lose position for years. A dedicated practitioner of the prevailing “child-centered” progressive ideology, Ms.Harwayne’s demographically driven triumphs have been frequently hailed in the city’s press as the result of superior teaching methods. But her programs, which work just fine for rich kids who typically come to kindergarten already able to read,don’t travel well.Poorer districts that have emulated her agenda, such as District 10 in the Bronx, have exhibited no long-term improvement.

Ms. Harwayne’s departure comes as no surprise to education insiders, who have been expecting it for months. Tapped to lead the newly created Region 9, which incorporates parts of District 1 on the Lower East Side, District 4 in East Harlem,and the South Bronx’s District 7 — failing districts all — she had good reason for concern about maintaining her reputation.

Department of Education insiders say that Ms. Harwayne, far from leaving because of family concerns as was reported, never was going to stay but was convinced to lend her name to the controversial and unpopular restructuring plan. The clearest evidence of this was the presence of highly regarded Peter Heaney in a tertiary role on her team — far below the position that would be expected for him.Mr. Heaney was quickly moved into Ms. Harwayne’s job Friday, an indication that he was actually waiting in the wings for the announcement of her departure.

The exit of Anthony Shorris, Mr. Klein’s deputy chancellor for operations,was inevitable after disclosures in the Daily News the previous week that Mr. Shorris was on the payroll of the Welfare Fund of Local 1199, pulling down as much as $100,000 a year as a couple-hours-a-week consultant.

Mr. Klein is fond of referring to himself as really just a city commissioner. If Mr. Klein’s logic holds, Mr. Shorris was a deputy commissioner.The idea that such a city official could also be on the payroll of a union that does business with the city — even if not with Mr. Shorris’ own agency — is unacceptable.Mr.Klein was wise to pull Mr. Shorris from the stage quickly,but the chancellor is already taking heat for replacing him with LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, a former colleague at Bertelsmann AG,whose education experience is measured in weeks.

These are not the only departures.The fanfare this past spring surrounding the establishment of the City Hall Academy was centered on the leadership of Anna Switzer. Ms. Switzer was the principal of P.S. 234, a public school in the shadow of the Twin Towers. She won high marks for her stewardship of that school in the wake of the most unpredictable circumstance imaginable. Ms. Switzer was plucked from her post there mid-year to run the City Hall demonstration school, and her involvement gave this questionable exercise some degree of educational gravitas. Ms. Switzer is now retiring, giving new meaning to the term “principal for a day.”

Also gone is Matthew Bromme, the former superintendent of District 27 in Queens. Mr. Bromme had been tapped for the key post of senior operations manager of the Office of Zoning and Student Placement. This was an important position because of the compliance issues surrounding the No Child Left Behind law. Stanley Mims, the former Superintendent of District 9, who was slated to head special education in Region 1, has also filed his retirement papers.

Why are so many educrats departing? I suspect that it is because they don’t really believe in the Bloomberg-Klein program and find it difficult to execute a plan in which they don’t have confidence.

I had a discussion with a prominent New Yorker who met with Mr. Bloomberg recently and discussed education issues. His conclusion was that the Bloomberg education reform lacks an ideology,a big idea,that inspires confidence and creates excitement. In education, such big ideas include, but are not limited to, vouchers, charter schools, adopting the core-knowledge curriculum, and mandating English immersion for English-language learners.

What we are getting is a corporate culture ill-suited to the school environment and a slightly better organization of the plans and programs that have already failed repeatedly. No wonder so many want to leave. Look for the revolving door to keep spinning.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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