NYC Schools Chancellor promises to empower city schools principals

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New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks has repeatedly promised to transform New York City’s schools “from the bottom up.”

According to Banks, giving principals more autonomy is one way he wants to empower them. He often touts his 11 years as a principal in the Bronx.

Handing more power to principals in the hopes of driving better academic outcomes is not a new idea. It was a guiding philosophy under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg that sparked some radical overhauls of the education department.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration came in with a sharply different vision, and spent the past eight years reining in school leaders’ authority. Now, the power dynamic could swing again.

Eric Nadelstern, one of the architects of the city’s previous experiment to empower principals, said he has recently been in touch with officials in the Banks administration.

Education department officials did not immediately comment on conversations with Nadelstern.

“I think he understands the benefits of it. I think he’s experienced the benefits of it,” said Nadelstern, a former deputy chancellor under the Bloomberg administration who is now a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

“I think he’s in the process of, ‘How to do it again and more effectively?’”

In addition to his experience as a school leader, Banks also launched a network of six schools before becoming chancellor, overseeing more than 1,600 schools. Those close to him say he still has deep relationships with New York City principals.

Nadelstern said his advice would be to start small.

“The New York City Department of Education is the most intransigent bureaucracy in the world,” he said.

“What you can do is: Build something off to the side. You can nurture it and grow it… to demonstrate that what you’re proposing is successful.”

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