School Networks Confuse Politicians, But DOE Says They Work
Since the mayor won control of the city's public schools more than a decade ago, the organizational chart linking City Hall with school principals has changed again and again. Who do principals report to, and who supports them? Education reporter Lindsey Christ found they're questions that have politicians and parents very confused.
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First, the city's 1,700 public schools were organized into districts. Then they were organized into regions. Then, something called support organizations.
"Everyone was confused," said City Councilman Robert Jackson. "You need a scorecard to keep up with it!"
Then, two years ago, the New York City Department of Education said it finally figured out the best way to organize and support the schools: networks. 55 of them.
Each has a staff of 15 to help schools with everything from boosting classroom instruction to dealing with payroll, food services or legal issues. Principals can join whichever one they want, regardless of where their schools are.
Think it's confusing? So do lawmakers.
"As the Council itself, we've been struggling for years to figure out how the heck these networks work," said City Councilman David Greenfield.
DOE officials admit they may not have done the best job explaining what the networks do to the Council or the public. But they say networks work.
"This is one of the places in the department that's getting the highest rating by principals," said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer of the Department of Education.
But, in what became a heated exchange, councilmembers said they couldn't even get basic information on how to contact people who run the networks.
The DOE said it's worked hard to make sure the system does the job, even if the DOE says it hasn't explained it all that well.
"We have gone network by network and figured out, 'Do we have the right leadership in place?'" Polakow-Suransky said. "And in about a third of them, I replaced the leader because I didn't think we had the right leadership."
When it came time for the teachers union to weigh in, they said the networks keep the DOE from being held accountable when things go wrong.
"Something goes wrong in a school, it's the principal's fault," said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. "Something goes wrong in the system, it's the network's fault."
The DOE said this isn't about fault but support, and when it comes to helping schools, the networks are the best system they've come up with. So far.