MANHATTAN — Superintendents are back.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced a major overhaul for city schools on Thursday: Principals will report to local superintendents rather than networks, returning to a neighborhood-based chain of command.
The change may seem esoteric to parents, who had little interaction with the 55 school networks created under the Bloomberg administration.
"Most parents don't even know what networks are," said Mona Davids, of the grassroots New York City Parents Union advocacy group.
But many parent advocates are applauding the move, which they believe will help improve schools and give parents a clearer way to express their complaints and concerns.
1. Networks didn't help many schools.
Under the Bloomberg administration, schools joined one of 55 networks scattered across the city, which were each responsible for overseeing a group of principals and offering instructional support.
Some networks were linked by instructional approaches, which helped high-performing schools to thrive by learning from each other. But struggling schools suffered from too little support and oversight, education experts said.
Networks often served about 25 schools, but the number of students in these schools could vary widely — and yet the networks had the same resources whether they had many students or few, and whether they were struggling or making progress, advocates said.
The return to superintendents, who oversee schools in specific geographic areas, is expected to address these issues, school officials said.
2. Networks did little to encourage parent engagement.
The network-based system was difficult for many parents to navigate. Often their schools' networks were based outside their neighborhood or even their borough, and they did little to invite feedback from parents, many said.
Davids, who is on the school leadership team at P.S. 106, her son's school in The Bronx, said she would copy her school's network leaders on all email correspondence about problems in the school — but she never saw any action.
"Parents were like a Ping-Pong, thrown back and forth, and nothing was done," she said. "The network at my school was completely useless."
3. The buck now stops with the superintendents.
Now, the same people who hire and rate the principals — the superintendents — will be in a greater position to help them and provide them with needed resources, Fariña explained on Thursday.
“We are drawing clear lines of authority and holding everyone in the system accountable for student performance,” Fariña said in a statement. “This system will create consistency and clarity across the school system, and help us better meet the needs of our students, schools, and school communities — especially those who struggle the most."
Leonie Haimson, a frequent DOE critic and founder of the advocacy group Class Size Matters, called the move to superintendents "long overdue."
It provides "schools with supervision and support in a way that makes sense — based on the community in which they are located," Haimson said. "For the first time in years, parents will be able to appeal to a specific person — the district superintendent — if their child is not being served well by their school or principal."
The Bronx school that Davids' daughter attends is overseen by one of 15 new superintendents hired by the DOE last year.
"I don't know yet how good or bad she's going to be," Davids said. "But now when I send an email to Fariña, in less than 2 minutes I get calls from the superintendent herself. Now, I can see the chain of command. Now we know the buck stops with the superintendent and after the superintendent, it's the chancellor."
4. There will be more support for both teachers and parents.
The city is hiring additional staff at superintendents' offices, including a district or borough "family advocate" dedicated to addressing parents' concerns, DOE officials said.
There will also be additional supports for school staff: The city is setting up seven Borough Field Service Centers — two in Brooklyn, two in Queens and one each in The Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island — to open this summer.
The centers will have experts helping schools with instruction, operations and student services, including health resources, counseling and supporting English Language Learners and students with special needs, DOE officials said.