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October 2011

NYC Principals Get Help

Teaching Matters
As the cost of hardware plummets, Teaching Matters is helping City school leadership integrate new technologies into curricula.

Parents know that a strong principal is the linchpin of a successful school. After years of burdensome, bureaucratic regulation, City principals now have autonomy to run their schools. The can introduce new technologies and curricula, manage the budget, and hire outside organizations to help fix a school’s weaker areas.

In exchange for this freedom, school leaders are held responsible for improving test scores, particularly in reading and math. It’s a lot to handle for even the most seasoned school administrators, but principals are younger and less experienced than ever before—80 percent have been on the job less than eight years—and many are overwhelmed. There is help out there, but principals must ask for it. “The school is given a budget to buy services from one of eleven school support organizations, and is required to hire at least one, but it is up to the school to make use of those services, or not,” says Kim Nauer, education project director at the New School’s Center for NYC Affairs.

Are Principals Getting the Help They Need?

In order to gauge whether schools are getting the help they need, a $38,000 grant in 2010 to The New School’s Center for NYC Affairs funded an evaluation of the Department of Education’s (DOE) support system for principals in poorly performing schools. In June 2010, the Center released the report, Managing by the Numbers; Empowerment and Accountability in New York City’s Schools. It analyzed DOE’s school progress reports and examined the impact of increased principal control and other changes in school management, recommending nine improvements. They included a ban on school closings until better options are available and placing the most experienced principles in the toughest schools. DOE has accepted several of the recommendations and is working with the Center to carry them out.

Helping Schools Harness Learning Technologies

Bringing principals into schools that make effective use of technology was a central part of a $50,000 grant in 2010 to Teaching Matters. The nonprofit worked with leaders of 50 middle schools and created school-wide plans to integrate Internet research, open publishing, and other tools that improve students’ grasp of English, science, and social studies. Lynette Guastaferro, the organization’s executive director, says, “nothing convinces a principal that they can do something new more than seeing another principal do it.”

Building Relationships, Cutting Conflict

Bringing order and better attitudes to schools are the keys to making them safer, friendlier, and more engaging places to learn. “Building a cohesive community within school walls, and strengthening relationships between and among students, teachers, and principals can transform schools into places where students are motivated to do their best and feel supported to succeed,” says Shawn Morehead, program officer for education at The Trust. “The first step to creating a more positive learning environment is to replace top-down punishment with student-led resolution when conflict occurs.”

With a $50,000 grant in 2010, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) worked with a dozen schools at three different high-school complexes, where it taught principals, teachers, and other staff how to help students learn from each other, mediate conflicts, and teach those involved to resolve their own conflicts.

With a $50,000 grant, the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative is leading a pilot program to develop strategies for relationship-building, conflict resolution, and mentoring in City schools. Above, students discuss classroom conflict and possible solutions.

At the Bushwick complex, NESRI worked with students to develop a youth-led program that promotes conflict resolution skills. In one after-school peer group, ninth graders learned the peaceful martial art of Aikido. At the Graham Avenue complex, NESRI helped train teachers improve classroom environments, create advisory programs in which students are paired with mentors, and started a peer mediation program.

At the Franklin K. Lane complex, NESRI worked with the Cypress Hills Educational Choices Center to establish a peer mediation program to diffuse the mounting tension among students in the five schools at the complex.

NESRI also organized a dozen students and faculty to testify at a public hearing on the rising rates of student suspensions and the need for more support of positive behavior.

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