the new old guard

For first time, new principal academy CEO was once a principal

Irma Zardoya, the new CEO of the city's Leadership Academy, said that she wants to focus on building new principals' support networks.

The head of the city’s principal training academy has an unprecedented line on her resume: she has worked as a principal before.

Irma Zardoya, who was principal of The Bilingual School in the Bronx for nine years in the 1980s and served as a district leader for many years after that, replaced Sandra Stein as CEO of the city’s Leadership Academy last month.

Stein, who had led the academy since 2005, came to the position from Baruch College, where she wrote about principal training and created its Aspiring Leaders Program. Stein’s predecessor, Robert Knowling, came from the corporate world.

In an interview at the Leadership Academy’s headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, Zardoya said that she doesn’t have immediate plans to change the content or aim of the academy. But she is zeroing in on one goal that might separate her from her predecessors. She wants to work on building new principals’ relationships with other administrators in their districts.

“Everyone needs to be responsible for a [new principal’s] success, so that when the person is placed they are not lonely, so that the superintendent is aware of who this person is,” she said.

The Bloomberg administration created the New York City Leadership Academy and its Aspiring Principals Program in 2003 to train administrators for service under former Chancellor Joel Klein. The original idea of the academy, which had former General Electric C.E.O. Jack Welch on its original advisory board, was to apply leadership principles from the corporate world to education.

The academy’s most recent graduating class made up 23 percent of first-year principals this school year.

A study by New York University researchers found that academy graduates yield student English score gains higher than the average starting principal, but did not show a difference in math performance. Meanwhile, some graduates of the program have come under fire for creating dysfunctional work environments in their pursuit of student gains.

Zardoya said that she is making the integration of new principals one of her primary goals in her first year as leader of the academy. Her proposal: to put more emphasis on reaching out to district supervisors and veteran principals in the recruitment process. In her plan, more superintendents and existing principals will be asked to recommend applicants to the Leadership Academy.

“We will look at who’s giving us that information, the clusters, the network leaders, or principals themselves,” Zardoya said. “And therefore when we do select them, people will say okay, can you help and support them as they under go this process, so that eventually when they do get integrated, then there will be a support there.”

If she does decide to increase the role of district administrators in the application process, she will be copying a strategy that she herself implemented as the superintendent of District 10 in the Bronx from 1994-2003.

“That’s exactly what she did,” said Ken Grover, the Director of the Principals Institute at Bank Street, who worked with Zardoya when she ran District 10. “She picked people from within who could move a school in the direction she felt they needed to go. They sought out candidates, they helped in the selection process.”

Before leading District 10, Zardoya was a principal for nine years and a deputy superintendent in Manhattan. When District 10 was combined with District 9 into Region 1 in the city’s 2007 reorganization, she was tapped to lead.

Those who have worked with her characterize Zardoya as someone who can emphasize the practical, experiential aspect of principal training. “She certainly has the ability and the foresight to change direction and make a stronger connection between the practitioner and the theory,” Grover said.

Peter Heaney, who worked with Zardoya as a superintendent of Region 9 from 2003 until 2007, agreed: “She will be able to tell what’s too theoretical, and what’s not practical enough.”

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.