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21st March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 21, 2003
By Andrew Wolf

Sometimes it is the little items in a newspaper that reveal what is really going on about town. Such is the case with a small news brief in the March 19, 2003, edition of The New York Sun.

At the bottom of page 2 was a story, “School E-Mail Was Erroneous.” It discussed a short e-mail sent by a fellow named Eric Nadelstern to eight fellow educators. If you can read between the lines, this e-mail is a smoking gun that reveals much about the way that Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Education is being run.
Mr. Nadelstern is a deputy superintendent of the Bronx High School Division of the Department of Education. His colleague, Laura Rodriguez, has been tapped by Schools Chancellor Klein to be “regional superintendent” of Region 2 in the East Bronx, one of 10 such regions created by Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein to replace the current community school districts.

Under the new structure, the regional superintendent will supervise about 10 “local instructional supervisors,” who in turn will directly supervise about 10 schools. The word is that Mr. Nadelstern has already been tapped to serve as Ms. Rodriguez’s deputy.

Obviously, these 100 local instructional supervisors are key people in the new structure. They will be paid $135,000 a year, plus bonuses and generous benefits. In addition, they will have a staff of two deputies — each at about $100,000 a year — and, we can assume, clerical help as well.

The importance of this post presumably accounts for the Department of Education publicizing these positions with big, expensive advertisements in the New York Times and the nationally distributed Education Week. Postings of the jobs were sent to all New York City principals and other district and central office personnel, urging them to submit an application. These applications are then supposed to be reviewed by an “L.I.S. Selection Committee.”

But what the Nadelstern e-mail suggests is that anyone who independently applied for these jobs may well have been wasting his or her time. The jobs appear already to have been filled. And rather than the best people chosen from among a nationally recruited pool of top applicants, a healthy dose of cronyism and politics appears to be at play, at least in Region 2.

The e-mail was dated Monday, March 17, at 8:41 a.m. The applications for the positions were due by the close of business the following day, March 18. That was part of the reason that the e-mail was sent. It reminded the eight recipients (as well as Ms. Rodriguez, to whom a copy was sent) to get their applications in on time.

These eight people, addressed as “Dear Team,” were then reminded to mark their calendars to attend the “Region 2 Network Leaders Retreat” at the Dolce Tarrytown House on April 11 and 12. They were also told to reserve May 6 and 7, since “all Local Instructional Supervisors will be trained to conduct interviews by the Dept. of Ed.’s Leadership Academy.”

It is fairly obvious that this was a memo to the “team” of local instructional supervisors who have already been chosen in Region 2. When confronted with this evidence, the Department of Education’s spokesman, Kevin Ortiz, had the uncomfortable duty to say that the e-mail was “sent out erroneously” — but he did not deny its authenticity.

I wonder whether those applicants who are rejected for these jobs will feel cheated and if they’ll find a smart lawyer willing to challenge this selection process on their behalf.

So who are the people who have likely been chosen? Despite the fact that the regions will oversee all education from K-12, this “team” is taking on a decidedly high-school tilt. Both Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Nadelstern are from the Bronx High School Division, as is Eduardo Genao. Frankly, Bronx high schools are the graveyard of broken dreams. There is little to say about an office that not only has failed at the bottom, but at the top as well. It was this office that so thoroughly botched the selection of a new principal from the Bronx High School of Science two years ago that the chancellor’s office had to assume direct supervision of that elite school.

The group, as identified thus far (the owners of two e-mail addresses can’t yet be pinpointed), also includes two current high school principals, Mary Ann Hawthorne of Gompers Vocational High School in the Bronx, and Elizabeth Orphals, the principal of Louis Armstrong High School in Queens. Another team member, Dov Rokeach, is now a deputy superintendent in District 8; but he is also said to have a background heavy in high schools, working in special education.

The fifth identifiable name is Michael Sorum, who is thought to have worked for Deputy Chancellor for Instruction Diana Lam in Providence, R.I. His selection would also warrant questioning, since it would bring this episode right to the door of the Department of Education at the Tweed Courthouse — the new Tweed Ring.

The last name is that of the current District 11 superintendent, Marlene Filowich. She is leading the top-performing district in the Bronx. In a just world, she would be Ms. Rodriguez’s boss, and not the other way around. The word on the “Bronx Street” is that Ms. Filowich will be put in charge of a network of schools that closely mirrors the lines of the district represented by State Senator Guy Velella, a powerful Republican. In this way, the Bloomberg administration seemingly hopes to win the necessary support in the state legislature, without which its whole house of cards collapses.

State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn has taken the administration to court to stop the dismantling of the city’s school districts. The city’s attorneys failed to answer Mr. Kruger this past Monday, asking for more time.

Mr. Kruger is right. The process must be stopped, and the legislature must intervene in an informed and deliberate manner. The huge turnout of more than 600 angry parents in Bayside, Queens, last week should be a wake-up call to Mr. Bloomberg and key Republican legislators such as Mr. Velella and Frank Padavan of Queens.

It is time to back off and open the process of reorganizing our city’s schools to public input.

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

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