Keynote: Transforming Education - The New York City Story
Presented by Dennis Walcott
Deputy Mayor, New York City
This morning we attended the keynote given by Mr. Dennis Walcott, Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development in New York City. NYC has adopted the America’s Choice program as one approved intervention. Walcott mentioned that Duval County was the most improved county in Florida after adopting the America’s Choice program! The focus of his keynote was "Transforming Education: The New York City Story."
Walcott dedicates his life to his 3rd grade teacher – Mrs. Long. She was someone who made that difference in his life as he struggled with reading.
When he began his position he found that the system had many deficiencies. It was dysfunctional, there wasn’t any system-wide curriculum for any subject, funding was based on politics, there were stagnant test scores, no parent input, and no accountability. The first order of business was to gain control over the schools. There were 32 separate district boards without any connections. On top of that NYC PUblic Schools was one of the largest school systems:
• 1.1 million students
• 20 billion budget
• 1450 schools
• 140,000 staff
• 80,000 teachers
• Over 170 languages
• Over 8000 buses
Changes had to be made and it began as they combined all the schools into 10 districts. Phase 1 included the New Governance Structure and with a citywide core curriculum – they worked on the focus in teaching and learning. They created a coherent professional development program which would support classroom instruction across the district. They began the NYC Leadership Academyto provide support for professional development. They also provided the support for the teachers mentoring program and increased teacher salaries. They implemented a Parent Coordinator project where each parent coordinator has a public cell phone to provide information for their students. With this program they downsized the systems structure to become more efficient.
Phase 2 was about elevating good to outstanding. The focus of this phase was on accountability. The major components included empowerment, fair student funding, accountability, teacher tenure reform which gives principals new tools to help determine success, Teacher Performance Pay Program. Policy innovations were put in place such as conflict resolution and anti-bullying workshops. Schools were made into safer places for students and teachers because order was restored. Schools were added to an impact initiative and crime was decreased by over 50%. New promotion policies were put into place (3rd , 5th , 7th , 8th grades) because these were considered “critical years.” Additional support was provided for students who do not reach these goals. Office of Multiple Pathways to graduation was created in 2005. Students were given more meaningful options to meet them where they were. Transfer schools were created as an alternative to traditional high schools. Young Adult Borough Center (YABC) were created for students who could not go to school during the day due to a work load. (Over 5,000 students have graduated to date.) Learning to work programs were created. New, smaller schools were created. Since 2002 over 230 schools were created by splitting large, failing high schools into several smaller ones. The Average graduation rate when from 35% to 72%. What made the biggest difference? Leadership, trying something new, focusing on the students.
In closing he discussed the hallmarks of the approach which included partnerships, options, and challenging the status quo. This program has brought nothing but success for New York City public schools. They were the winner of the Broad Prize for Top Urban School District in the U.S. in 2007.