By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
School leaders from Districts 25 and 26 in northeast Queens expressed frustration last week at the secrecy still surrounding the restructuring of the city's school system and questioned the role of principals under Mayor Bloomberg's new plan.
His plan to eliminate the city's 32 district superintendents and group the districts into 10 regions is set to take effect July 1. But the panelists at a meeting March 26 of the Americans of Italian Heritage said details are still hanging in the air even for those in the know.
“There's a lot of uncertainty,” said Dorita Gibson, deputy superintendent for District 25, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point, Bay Terrace and Kew Gardens Hills.
Part of that uncertainty stems from the fact that the state Legislature has not yet passed legislation designating a replacement for the community school boards, even as the districts themselves are scheduled to be phased out.
Many parents in District 26, the city's top-ranked district, are fiercely opposed to its grouping into a larger region with lower-performing districts.
District 26 covers schools in Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Glen Oaks as well as parts of Fresh Meadows, Auburndale, and Bellerose.
Sharon Maurer, president of School Board 26, said there were some positive aspects to the mayor's plan, which includes the assignment of 10 instructional supervisors in each region with the responsibility of overseeing curriculum for 10 schools each.
Districts 25 and 26 will be combined with Districts 28 and 29 in southern Queens to form Region 3.
“I see some very good things about breaking the structure down into smaller parts,” said Maurer, who chairs the Queens Council of School Boards.
But she added that the Bloomberg administration had approached the restructuring “with a lot more secrecy than is good for an educational system” in that it had not provided answers for many of the questions parents and educators were asking.
Maurer wondered what would become of bilingual and ESL programs, which are not uniform from district to district and what powers principals would have in a system that provides for math and literacy coaches, a parent coordinator and business manager in each school.
“There may be answers, but we're not hearing them yet,” said Maurer.
Colman Genn, a senior fellow at the Center for Education Innovation-Public Education Association and a former superintendent of District 27, said the business managers had been scrapped in the latest permutation of the mayor's plan, although Maurer said later that they were still “being looked at.”
Genn emphasized that empowering principals should be a key factor in any restructuring, a view shared by Judith Chin, the new head of Region 3.
“My greatest experience was in the role of a principal,” said Chin, a Little Neck resident and former principal in Manhattan's District 2. “That is where you can make a tremendous difference in the teaching and learning that goes on in your school.”
Chin has worked in New York City schools for 30 years, having taught in Spanish Harlem and Crown Heights before becoming a principal.
Although Chin is a relative unknown to most parents in the region, she said she has a personal investment in the success of Queens schools, with two of her children teaching in Districts 24 and 25 and one child in second grade in District 26.
Chin acknowledged that she had chosen to live in District 26 on the strength of its schools, but said her job was “to make sure we can level the playing field” and make sure that schools outside the district could achieve the same success.
Gibson expressed confidence in Chin, saying “when I walk away from District 25, I know we're in good hands.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.