Chancellors Come & Go; Schools Remain
Twenty-five years is a long time. In 1982, "Dallas" was the top-rated television program,
for the Mets, led the National League with 37 home runs, and Ma Bell was in charge of almost everyone's telephone.
Today, "Dallas" has given way to "American Idol", several Mets players can hit 30-plus homers, and AT&T is now a wireless cellphone company, so it's no surprise that New York City's public schools have changed with the passage of time too.
Beginning with the 1982- 1983 school year, New York City public schools embarked on a hectic quarter-century journey for their more than one million students. In that time, a dozen chancellors have led the schools.
Frank J. Macchiarola 1978 - 1983
Frank J. Macchiarola was chancellor of New York City Schools from 1978 until 1983. That was back when there was still a Board of Education that ran city public schools independently of the mayor. The Board of Education consisted of seven members, two appointed by the mayor and one by each of the five borough presidents.
The Board of Education was first created in New York City in 1842. When the city consolidated into five boroughs, there was a central board plus borough boards for the years 1898 to 1901. Mostly, it was the Board of Education that was in charge of New York City public schools until it was replaced by a mayoral agency, the Department of Education in 2002. More on that later.
In 1969, the New York state legislature passed a school decentralization law. Although the central Board of Education remained, community school boards took charge of all elementary and junior high schools as of July 1, 1970. These ninemember boards, elected by all eligible voters in a school district, were completely autonomous from the central Board of Education, controlling district budgets and many district jobs.
The decentralization law also created the position of chancellor. The first chancellor of New York City public schools was Harvey Scribner. But it was Frank Macchiarola who first addressed the plight of city schools.
"If Chrysler had an assembly line in which the same number of cars got through as kids do in our school system, people would be scandalized," said Macchiarola in a January 9, 1983 New York Times report.
Macchiarola outlined three goals he sought to accomplish for city schools, goals that would be echoed and re-echoed through the years. He wanted more accountable staff, more productive use of school resources and students who achieve and value learning.
Macchiarola said teacher tenure was not automatic, but instead, depended on merit. He decentralized some improvement and repair jobs in schools. Most importantly, Macchiarola introduced a program of diagnostic reading tests for elementary and junior high school students.
In February 1983, Macchiarola resigned as chancellor to become president and chief executive officer of the New York City Partnership, Inc. and the central Board of Education began a selection process to search for a new chancellor for city schools.
Mayor Edward I. Koch wanted Robert F. Wagner, Jr., then a deputy mayor, to succeed Macchiarola over the objections of some groups that wanted the Board of Education to choose a minority candidate. However, in a stunning decision that would ultimately change in the years to come, the New York State Commissioner of Education at the time, Gordon Ambach, refused to grant a waiver to Wagner because he lacked the required professional certification in educational administration.
Anthony J. Alvarado 1983-1984
The Board of Education offered the appointment of chancellor to one of the other finalists, Anthony J. Alvarado. He became chancellor in May, 1983, but Alvarado would soon run into a serious personal scandal that became public less than a year later, in March 1984.
As Community Superintendent of District 4 in Manhattan, Alvarado was widely credited with many innovative educational initiatives, including alternative schools with specialized curricula. But during his years as a District Superintendent it was revealed, Alvarado had borrowed large sums of money from subordinates, authorized extra pay and promotions for some of those who loaned him money, possibly as paybacks for the loans, and engaged in other financial irregularities.
As an investigation put forth charge after charge, the Board of Education first suspended Alvarado in late March and then accepted his resignation on May 11, 1984, just before a hearing on the charges against him was scheduled to be held.
Alvarado eventually was again appointed a Community Superintendent, this time by District 2 in Manhattan in June 1987, a position he held until 1998 when he left New York for a position as Superintendent of Instruction in San Diego, California.
During Alvarado's suspension, Nathan Quinones was appointed acting chancellor and in June, 1984, the Board of Education appointed Quinones chancellor.
Nathan Quinones 1984-1987
Quinones, unlike Alvarado, was not an educational innovator, although he did push for the implementation of a full-day kindergarten program. He was executive director of the central board's Division of High Schools until circumstances thrust him into the chancellor's duties.
Focusing on improvement of administration in schools and setting standards to improve reading and math scores, Quinones was criticized for lacking leadership skills. Nonetheless, the Board of Education extended his contract for one year in 1986.
But even with a contract through June, 1988, Quinones announced his resignation effective January 1, 1988 in August 1987, amid growing opposition that said he had failed to reform schools and solve their longstanding problems.
Richard R. Green 1988-1989
The first African American chancellor of New York City public schools, Green was appointed on March 1, 1988. He died 14 months later of a severe asthma attack on May 10, 1989. He was 51 years old.
Green came to New York City from the Minneapolis, Minnesota public school system where he rose through the ranks to become superintendent of schools in 1980.
During his short tenure, Green showed prescience, pushing for legislation to fund new schools and urging reforms for the election of community school board members. He also advocated more say for teachers and making schools safer.
"We need to make children the center of our culture," said Chancellor Green, predating the ubiquitous "Children First" slogan used by the Department of Education today.
In the past 25 years, there have been 12 chancellors. But three of them were never actually appointed, only serving in an interim capacity. Two of them, Richard F. Halverson (1983) and Charles I. Schonhaut (1988) are footnotes between departing and arriving appointees. But the third, Bernard Mecklowitz (1989) is notable.
Bernard Mecklowitz 1989
At the time of Chancellor Green's death, Mecklowitz was deputy chancellor. On June 8, 1989, Mecklowitz became chancellor although it was made public that the Board of Education would appoint someone else as chancellor by January 1, 1990.
But on October 25, 1989, Mecklowitz, acting with the full power of his office, suspended the nine-member board of Community School District 27 in Queens. The New York Times, reporting that day, said, "Some board members made appointments in their district that were based on 'political agendas'."
In January 1989, the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public Schools, or the Gill Commission as it was called, began an investigation of corruption in District 27. As a result of that investigation, released on October 23 and 24, 1989, the Gill Commission reported that "race, ethnicity, religion, and politics counted more than merit in personnel decisions" made in District 27.
As a further result of the Gill Commission's findings, two District 27 community school board members were indicted on several federal and state criminal charges based on their corrupt activities as board members. In addition, Mecklowitz suspended the entire District 27 school board and installed three trustees to run the district.
In the election for mayor that year, the six major candidates all agreed the public schools were in "woeful condition". The choice of a new schools chancellor became a campaign issue.
Running for the first time, Republican Rudolph Giuliani said if he was elected, he should have the power to pick the next chancellor because he believed the relationship between the mayor and the chancellor was very important.
Mayor Ed Koch and then Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, the two leading Democratic candidates, both said a new chancellor should be chosen as quickly as possible without regard to the mayoral race.
Also at issue was whether the chancellor should be from a minority group, in light of the fact that at least 80 percent of city public school students were from minorities. Finally, asked what to do about scandals in the community school board, Richard Ravitch, formerly head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and a candidate for mayor in 1989, said school board elections were a "charade".
Harrison J. Goldin, then city Comptroller and also a candidate for mayor in 1989, was reported by the New York Times (August 9, 1989) as sometimes telling audiences the Board of Education "should be blown up", something Giuliani was to pick up on when he became mayor in 1993.
Joseph A. Fernandez 1990-1993
"Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez, with the strong support of Mayor David N. Dinkins, is preparing to distribute condoms to students in New York City schools," said a September 26, 1990 New York Times report, beginning a very stormy two-year tenure by Fernandez as chancellor.
Fernandez, a former high school dropout, came to New York from Dade County in Florida, where he was superintendent. His plan to make condoms available on request to students at all high schools, without parental consent and without mandatory counseling, led to a firestorm of criticism.
The Board of Education voted 4 to 3 in favor of the proposal early in 1991, a move school officials said would help combat the spread of AIDS and unwanted teenage pregnancies. Queens Board of Education member Carol Gresser immediately sought an amendment to allow parents to "opt out" of the program. She would become a key player in Fernandez' ultimate demise, but not before Fernandez would introduce another controversial policy in 1992, a curriculum to teach elementary school children in grades one through six about AIDS. New York State education law had required elementary schools to instruct all pupils, starting in kindergarten, about AIDS since 1987. One school district protested that teaching fifth and sixth graders how the disease can be transmitted through references to anal sex was inappropriate.
On March 1, 1993, Queens Community School District 24 announced they would bar any classroom use of an AIDS curriculum after it was approved by the Board of Education. "If the chancellor thinks parents are going to let him subject their children to that sort of filth, he's badly mistaken," said Mary A. Cummins, then president of School District 24 in a March 2, 1993 New York Times report. "He's in for another fight and another defeat."
In February 1993, the Board of Education had already voted not to extend Fernandez' contract past June 30. The decisive vote, cast by Queens Board of Education representative, Carol Gresser came at the behest of Queens Borough President Claire Shulman.
Shulman, in a February 7, 1993 New York Times report, said, [Fernandez] had expended more energy on controversial social issues than educational initiatives."
Ramon C. Cortines 1993-1995
Cortines, a former superintendent of San Francisco schools for six years prior to coming to New York, became chancellor at the beginning of the 1993- 1994 school year in September. His tenure was marked by repeated clashes with Mayor Giuliani.
"[Giuliani] demands total conformity and does not tolerate ideas different from his own," said Cortines in a June 2, 1995 New York Times article.
The issue prompting Cortines' comment was Giuliani's decision to have the New York Police Department (NYPD) take over the 3,200 school safety officers in public schools. "I do not work for the Mayor," said Cortines in the June 2 Times report. "I have a responsibility for the school system."
Continuing, Cortines said, "[Giuliani] has made it very clear that no matter what I do or say, unless I acquiesce to all of his wishes, that I am not a good manager and I am not showing good leadership."
Giuliani, in reply famously said Cortines should "not be precious" about criticism. "He shouldn't be so sensitive about it," said the mayor.
The previous year, Cortines had locked horns with Giuliani over the budget. "When the [Board of Education] decides, or the New York state legislature, that they want to turn the school system over the Mayor's Office or City Hall, that's fine with me," said Cortines in the June 2 Times. "But until that time, I am the appointed individual who has the responsibility and I am in charge and I will make the decisions that I feel are best for the entire system."
By the end of the month, Cortines announced his resignation as chancellor, effective October 1995, saying he decided to resign because Mayor Giuliani was putting the city in a position where it had to chose between two leaders trying to repair the schools.
Mayor Giuliani was, in fact, laying the foundation for mayoral control of the multibillion dollar budget for schools, but there were still two more chancellors appointed by the Board of Education to go before Giuliani's idea would become a reality.
Rudolph F. Crew 1995-1999
Crew came to New York City schools from Tacoma, Washington. In a New York Times article on October 8, 1995, announcing Crew's appointment as chancellor, it was said that "a cease-fire [was] reached with Mayor Giuliani after months of recrimination and political tumult."
Cortines was the seventh chancellor since Macchiarola and over the 12 years from 1983 to 1995, the average length of tenure for a chancellor was about a year and eight months. Crew was actually a compromise choice for a divided Board of Education, reflecting a wariness by education professionals from larger school systems to come to New York.
With Mayor Giuliani having already called for the state legislature to make the city's school system a city agency, with some oversight by the City Council in order to make it more accountable, the challenge for Crew was to gain and keep the support of both the Board of Education and the mayor.
By March 1999, Mayor Giuliani's campaign for a publicly financed voucher program caused Crew to threaten to resign. In a pilot program Giuliani wanted to allow some parents to use tax dollars for parochial or private school tuition.
In September 1999, Crew refused to say whether he wanted to stay as chancellor beyond 1999, and so after four years in office, the Board of Education, with strong backing from Giuliani, voted not to extend Crew's contract by a vote of 4 to 3 in December 1999.
Harold O. Levy 2000-2002
The new millennium found the seven members of the Board of Education once again seeking a new schools chancellor. But a surprising choice as interim chancellor emerged in the person of Harold Levy.
Levy, an executive at Citigroup and a member of the state Board of Regents at the time, was strongly supported by the Queens representative to the Board of Education, Terri Thomson. On January 9, 2000, he was appointed interim chancellor.
More surprising, in May Levy was appointed chancellor after numerous other candidates either dropped out or were rejected. With no formal credentials in education, Levy was granted a waiver from the New York State Commissioner of Education Richard Mills, a change from the policy that had prevented Robert F. Wagner Jr. from becoming chancellor almost 20 years before.
Succeeding Mayor Giuliani in 2001, Michael Bloomberg continued the pursuit of mayoral control of the city's schools. When the New York state legislature voted to dismantle the central Board of Education in 2002, Bloomberg became the first mayor in 33 years with broad control over the largest school system in the world. And Harold Levy became the last chancellor who did not have to answer directly to the Mayor of New York City. His tenure ended on August 16, 2002.
Joel I. Klein 2002-
Raised and educated in Queens, Joel Klein was appointed chancellor by Mayor Bloomberg with a mandate to radically overhaul the city's 1,200 public schools. Klein, a lawyer, and former assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice, was serving as chief executive officer for the German media company Bertelsmann and had practically no experience in public education other than having attended local public schools and graduated from William Cullen Bryant H.S. when he was appointed the 24th leader of the city's school system since New York City schools were unified in 1898.
What happens next?
Public education has deep roots in the history of the United States dating back to 1647 when the first law in America providing for free compulsory basic education was enacted in Massachusetts.
In the past 25 years, dropout rates in New York City public schools have hovered around 50 percent. A recent survey of lowincome New Yorkers say they are more concerned about the city's dropout rate than about increased funding to protect the city from terrorism, according to a Community Service Society of New York report released in February.
On May 21, the Department of Education said the four-year high school graduation rate in the city reached 60 percent. That is the highest it has been since the city began tracking graduation rates in 1986 and represents an 18 percent increase since the mayor assumed control of schools in 2002.
According to the Community Service Society, three out of four New Yorkers favor raising the age when teens can drop out of school from 16 to 17 or even 18 years old. Each year, almost 20,000 students stop going to city schools before they graduate with the dropout rates for African American and Hispanic students the highest in the United States.
The survey also found that lowering the legal age to attend school to 4 years old and making pre-kindergarten and kindergarten mandatory are strongly supported as ways to decrease dropout rates.
Overall, the survey found that the top priority for elected officials is improving public education, although most surveyed said they believed that city schools have shown little improvement over the last five years.
Schools have been given higher marks since Mayor Bloomberg assumed control, although parents of students age 13 to 18 are still unhappy about the quality of education their children are receiving.
In January 2007, Bloomberg proposed the second large reorganization of schools since he assumed control. Among the changes, which will take effect next September, are: principals will be given broader powers to determine their support services apart from the Department of Education, the 32 school superintendents will have their roles expanded and regional offices, which were begn in the first reorganization of 2002, will be eliminated.
In addition, schools will be graded by an independent panel and reports with letter grades on school performance will be sent to every public school parent in the city and there will be greater oversight on teacher tenure.
Most importantly, city public schools will receive unprecedented new levels of funding for the 2007-08 school year, roughly $900 million. A new method of calculating school funding called Fair Student Funding, will also begin with the infusion of new money.