Foot-dragging by the Board of Education. Power-hungry principals. Elections conducted without adequate notice. This is how parents and advocates explain their prediction that many New York City schools–from one-third to one-half–will not have state-mandated “school leadership teams” in place by October 1, the deadline under the landmark 1996 school governance law.
The teams–each consists of equal numbers of parents and school staff–were established by the state Legislature to balance the increased powers given to the chancellor under the law. They give parents power to help set budgets and, to a lesser extent, shape the curriculum of their children's schools. The teams are required to write extensive education plans for their schools this year. By spring 2001, they are also supposed to develop their schools' budgets.
But, parents say, teams formation is lagging. School leadership teams require separate school-wide elections, a requirement that some principals have sought to get around, parents claim, by appointing favored school staff to the committees or failing to publicize elections to the parents.
“Principals don't particularly like [the teams],” said Bruce Ellis, president of Community Advocates for Educational Excellence, a Harlem parents group that has fought with principals to create these teams.
Ellis thinks most schools in his district (District 5) won't have functional teams in place by the beginning of October, because, he said, the former head of the district put no pressure on the principals to form teams.
No one is claiming the chancellor's office has been openly hostile to the team idea, but some say that outreach and education were weak. “There hasn't been enough direction from [the Board of Education] about what [schools] should be doing and how they should be doing it,” said Kavitha Mediratta at the Institute for Education and Social Policy, a education research center at New York University.
The Board of Ed is much more optimistic. “It is our expectation is that every school will have a team in place” by the deadline, said Ann Horowitz, senior assistant to Deputy Chancellor Harry Spence. But Horowitz did admit that some schools may not have the required 50 percent parent representation. “It takes time to build effective teams,” she said.
In a survey completed in completed in April 1998, the board found 69 percent of city schools already had some sort of school-based planning committee in place. Many, however, lacked meaningful parent representation. On average, parents held only 26 percent of the seats.
The Board has also moved slowly in its outreach process. A $3 million-a-year public relations campaign has been delayed because the Board did not like the first round of submissions it received, according to Horowitz.
Parents say children will suffer at schools without functioning teams. “Part of the problem with schools now is the lack of parental involvement,” said Diane Lowman, a steering committee member of the Campaign for Good Schools, a coalition of organizations that lobbied the board to require 50 percent parent involvement on the teams. The teams, she said, give parents a real say in their children's education, something that has been sorely missing up to now. “We are the first teachers,” she pointed out. “We constantly reinforce what is being taught at school.”