Search for New York School Chancellor Heating Up!

Dear Commons Community,

The search to replace New York School Chancellor Carmen Fariñ heating up.  Ms. Fariña announced her retirement last month.  Yesterday, both the New York Times and the New York Post compiled lists of possible replacements.   The Times’ list was compiled by its editorial board while our own CUNY colleague David Bloomfield wrote the Post’s piece. Here is the list of possibilities.

New York Times/Editorial Board:

Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education. Early in his career, he worked as a teacher and then as a principal in New York City. He served in several positions at the city’s Department of Education, including as senior deputy chancellor, overseeing teaching and learning across the school system during a time of real transformation.

Jaime Aquino, who once worked as a local superintendent in the city and went on to do distinguished work in the Denver school system. He is now chief program officer for New Leaders for New Schools, a nonprofit focused on developing principals.

Paymon Rouhanifard, the superintendent of the Camden City School District in New Jersey since 2013, was also trained in New York City. In Camden, which was seen as one of the most troubled school systems in the country, Mr. Rouhanifard has improved graduation rates and lowered suspension rates. He has shown a tireless enthusiasm for the job and appears to be having a dramatic impact on public attitudes in Camden toward education.

John White, who has served as the Louisiana state superintendent of education since 2012, is another highly competent manager who formerly worked for the New York City Department of Education. In Louisiana, he has vigorously pushed reforms on curriculum and teacher preparation. In 2015, the state’s fourth graders showed the most growth in the country in the reading test of the federally backed National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the second-most in the math test. Graduation rates have risen under his stewardship, and many more students have completed high school with early college credits.

Among the candidates without roots in New York that Mr. de Blasio should consider is Kaya Henderson, who garnered a national reputation for leadership in the once beleaguered district of Washington, D.C., before stepping down in 2016. Over her six years at the helm, she strengthened academic offerings, created more confidence in the city schools, and engineered a personnel evaluation system that rewards highly competent teachers and steers the lowest performers out the door. An independent 2016 study found that this system had a significant impact on student learning.  While Ms. Henderson was reprimanded by a city ethics board after leaving office for giving preferential treatment to powerful people who wanted to place children in preferred schools and was censured for seeking donations for a nonprofit that supports public education, she did an outstanding job in the district.

John B. King Jr., a career educator who served as education secretary in the Obama administration and who is now president of the nonprofit advocacy group the Education Trust, would also be a good fit for New York. Mr. King became a lightning rod — particularly for the teachers union — while serving as New York State’s education commissioner, but he has never wavered in his commitment to higher standards for all children.

New York Post/David Bloomfield

First Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson seems to be a natural successor. The only problem is that, like other central Department of Education officials, she doesn’t seem to have the support of the mayor or chancellor. On the other hand, Brooklyn North Field Support Center Executive Director Bernadette Fitzgerald is a Fariña favorite, a successful former principal who would bring continuity and extensive system experience to the job.

Josh Starr, the ex-superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., and Stamford, Conn., schools was a runner-up to Fariña last time and is still a national leader in progressive education administration circles. He possesses New York roots and played a brief role as school-accountability czar during the Bloomberg administration.

Current Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho are able, long-serving leaders but identified with charter-school supporters, including de Blasio arch-enemy and progressive pariah Eva Moskowitz. Andrès Alonso served a successful six-year stint as Baltimore superintendent where he eventually won teacher-union support after a rocky start. He was a deputy chancellor under Joel Klein and is also supported by Moskowitz, perhaps two strikes against him despite his strong national reputation.

Presidents Felix Matos (Queens College) and ex-Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew (Medgar Evers) bring management strengths, public visibility and academic gravitas to the field.

Crew is known for his “Chancellor’s District” approach to low-performing schools — grouping several low-performing schools together for special intervention and oversight from the chancellor — a system that would likely benefit de Blasio but which the mayor does not seem open to implementing.

Matos’ appointment would be a win for Queens’ large population, often overshadowed by de Blasio’s Brooklyn base.

State Education Department:
Current Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa has a long record as a New York City special-education teacher and administrator and was a district superintendent in The Bronx. Regent Kathy Cashin was a respected principal before appointment to successful Brooklyn district and regional superintendencies.

A long shot but with enough juice to make the list is current State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, a soft-spoken, knowledgeable leader who gets on well with Carmen Fariña and could help the DOE meet crucial state and federal metrics, important for a lame-duck mayor with his sights on higher office.

Finally, ex-US Secretary of Education and State Commissioner John King has worked hard to pivot from his past charter-school and test-based-accountability advocacy to focusing on student civil rights and diversity. His ties to the former movements are a hindrance but it’s hard to dismiss King’s Obama affiliation and extraordinary resume.

My Summary:

Comparing the two lists, John King is the only one who appears on both.  I don’t think he will be appointed mainly because he has the baggage of the Common Core curriculum, standardized testing, and teacher evaluation that he promoted while New York State Education Commissioner.  These were not popular in the state especially with the teachers unions.  I think it will be someone who is currently in some education capacity in New York and is familiar with the City’s needs.  Remember that Mayor de Blasio went inside the New York City system to appoint Carmen Fariña.  This would tilt the possibilities to Betty Rosa, Rudy Crew, Kathy Cashin, Dorita Gibson and Bernadette Fitzgerald.


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