Op-Ed
by Joan Washington
May 19, 2009 | 2353 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When I first became a principal over 11 years ago, the rules of a failing school system interfered with the education of our children. Those rules prevented me from hiring my own staff, kept poor-performing teachers in classrooms and allowed a culture of corruption to put politics before our students.

Thanks to mayoral control of schools, those rules and that failing system are out. Since 2002, when mayoral control first became law, New York City public school principals have been empowered to manage the schools we are assigned to lead. This empowerment has been a critical factor to the success we have seen in our students, teachers and overall education system.

Principals are now authorized to hire our own staff and build an effective team of educators. We are responsible for rating our employees, including teachers, making us directly accountable for how our schools perform. What’s more, we no longer worry that school board politics will get in the way of our most important goal: teaching our students.

The results speak for themselves. We have seen a rise in the passing rates on the Regents Exam; we have celebrated the highest graduation rate in 20 years, up nearly 22 percent since 2002; finally, we have measured a narrowing in the racial achievement gap, bringing African-American and Latino students closer to educational equality.

I have also witnessed broader district representation. My district, District 75, serves students with the most severe disabilities. Before 2002, District 75 never had its own school board. Now, under mayoral control and the direction of Chancellor Joel Klein, we have a specific parent council to advise and comment on the City’s special education programs. The Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) is made up of parents and specialists who are best equipped to discuss and respond to the issues relevant to District 75.

I have seen avid community participation. My school, PS 811Q, is blessed with active and thoughtful parents who contribute through a variety of means. Our School Leadership Team leads productive conversations on school policy and the budget. Also, with the City’s 1,450 parent coordinators working one-on-one with an assigned school, parents may call or meet with our very own valued expert to address concerns on curriculum, class size and programming.

Finally, I have participated in the beneficial programs that mayoral control has brought to our school system. Developmental workshops make sure our teachers are kept up-to-date with the most effective instruction methods. Administrative improvements streamline operations so that we communicate, evaluate and synthesize information quickly and efficiently. We can turn what we know about our students, teachers and parents into real classroom change.

Before I was a principal, I was an educator and with a total of 31 years in the New York City school system, I know how far we have come and how far we have left to go. We cannot let politics undermine what has clearly made for our City’s greatest academic achievements. If we are truly committed to the progress we have made thus far, then we must make certain that our lawmakers in Albany renew mayoral control of schools this June.

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