The Leadership Academy is Sending New Principals to Schools Throughout New York City. Is This a Good Thing?
Joel Klein is sending out his newly-minted principals to most of the schools in New York City. As the Leadership Academy that trained them is supposedly privately funded, the public does not know where the money is coming from, or exactly what is being taught. Is this new wave of education personnel Mr. Klein's soldiers, ready to do anything he says, or are these new leaders ready to do what is right for the children and/or school? These do not have to be mutually exclusive, of course...but are they?
Report: Schools lack experienced principals
BY ELLEN YAN, Newsday, September 26, 2004
The new kid on the block, Dominic Cipollone makes a point every day of greeting the students streaming off the buses at IS 219.
Across from him are the Bronx housing projects. Behind him is a school that's on several low-performing lists. Walking past him are more than 1,500 youngsters, many of them struggling in math and reading.
None of that fazes Cipollone, 41, who's gone from sixth grade teacher to new principal after 14 months of training at the NYC Leadership Academy. Already, he has pulled in a $25,000 grant from music TV network VH1 to start an orchestra and band, in the hopes that music can also teach children math.
"A lot of exciting things are going to happen," Cipollone said.
Still, he's one of an unprecedented number of city principals who despite their enthusiasm have little or no experience on the job. Today, as the Department of Education begins its second full year of sweeping reorganization, 70 percent of the city's principals have less than five years experience in their jobs.
Some experts said it takes about three years for a principal to learn all the ropes, but in the last school year, only 54.7 percent of principals had been on the job longer than that, down from 62.5 percent two years ago, according to the mayor's annual progress report.
In all, 981 of 1,392 principals in the system have been in their posts fewer than five years, education officials said.
"It should be interpreted as a sign that something is wrong and hopefully, it will lead to the senior leadership looking at why they're losing so many principals," said Pedro Noguerra, director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University. At the same time, DOE numbers show about 41 percent of 78,865 teachers have less than five years of experience.
In its year-end review of Chancellor Joel Klein's reorganization, the nonprofit watchdog Insideschools.org cited the "hemorrhaging" of talent as alarming. Of the 112 schools listed as the best in its 2002 publication, Insideschools.org reported that principals in 45 of them had left by last summer.
The site's director, Clara Hemphill, said high turnover can scar children not just academically but also emotionally, as in the case of a Bronx public school that had several principals in 12 months. "The kids process it as 'one more adult in my life who's abandoned me,'" said Hemphill.
Several veteran principals cited two main reasons for leaving: The stress of the reorganization and a performance bonus program that made it lucrative to retire. Klein has frequently called principals the "change agents" in the fate of schools, but many of them said increased red tape under the reorganization has sapped their power and enthusiasm.
"You have to have an embolism before anyone pays attention to you," said one former principal who left this summer with 30-plus years in the system, more than 10 of them as administrator. She said the last fall of the hammer came as she wrestled this summer with budget cuts that forced her to drop teachers.
"I get a call from the deputy chancellor's office, telling me that I'm going to get a Snapple machine," she said. "... Keep your freaking machine. Give me money for the teachers."
Particularly bad timing
The loss of experienced personnel compounds an already difficult search for qualified principals, jobs that pay $100,244 to $125,283 under the terms of the latest contract. And it comes at a time when experience is needed more than ever to make the education overhaul a homerun, many educators say.
Klein said earlier this month, as the school year was about to get under way, that he wasn't worried about the turnover. In fact, he sees the power of new ideas from the latest generation of leaders. "Those people, before I got here, they were planning to retire," he said at the time. "The infusion of new leadership and new blood, on balance, is not only an asset, but it's a great asset."
The real issue, the chancellor said, is which ones stay and which leave, noting that some weren't up to the job. "Their view of the world is you just kind of go through the system, you're entitled to be a principal," he said. This year, the city has 312 new principals, 60 of them in new schools.
On Friday, Klein spokesman Jerry Russo said only that "our schools continue to be led by very highly talented principals and administrators committed to the mission of the New York City public schools." But it is undeniable that some of that talent has also left. The second reason cited for retirements, the bonuses, is a problem that Klein sees as a real dilemma inherited from the last administration.
In the 1999 school year, a performance incentive of as much as $15,000 was set up for principals and assistant principals. Education officials hoped this would boost academics while also helping to plug the runoff of good workers to places like Long Island, where the pay and conditions were better.
The program had an unintended side effect, though, as some of the best principals retired shortly after getting the bonus. Under state pension rules for many employees, the annual retirement payouts are based on the last year of salary. For others, depending when they were hired, the payouts are based on the average of the last two or three years' salaries.
"I was even willing not to receive my award until I was in my last year," said Patrick Burke, who retired this month from the High School of Economics and Finance after six years as principal.
Value of seeing same faces
While the principals' union head believes perfect balance is an even mesh of new faces, mid-career educators and long-time veterans, she said students, parents and teachers often respond better when they see the same administrators year after year.
"They know what to expect and what is expected of them," union president Jill Levy said. "When you have leadership coming and going ... the teachers are sitting and saying 'OK, so what's this guy going to bring in?'"
New teachers and administrators, who are on probation for three years, are less likely to question authority, said teachers' union head Randi Weingarten. "Right now, the signal from the school system is you do what you're told," she said.
But that is not the message Klein wants to send. He expects a wealth of ideas from new principals, and his principal-making incubator, the NYC Leadership Academy, has sent out its first class this year. There were 77 graduates, among them Cipollone. Several are in their late 20s and early 30s.
The academy is also training principals with one or two years experience. Klein recalled getting an e-mail this month from a new principal who had taken over a school that had been "utterly dysfunctional."
"Her teachers for the first time were sitting in a room, talking to each other," he said. "That's what new leadership can bring."
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.
As it happens, only one Principal has been placed.