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NY Ed Commissioner Urges Principals to Be More than “Managers”


John B. King, Jr., Ph.D., commissioner of education for the New York State Department of Education Photo by Leo Sorel

For the sixth consecutive year, the Graduate School of Education (GSE) assembled administrators representing schools around New York state for its Annual Leadership Conference, held March 13 at the Lincoln Center campus.

Keynote speaker John B. King, Jr., Ph.D., commissioner of education for the New York State Department of Education, emphasized the importance of teachers and administrators working in concert to improve student outcomes.

“The good news is that in New York state we’ve seen a steady increase in high school graduation rates,” said King, who taught high school history in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving into administrative roles. “That’s something we should all be proud of and encouraged by. It matters that more of our adults have high school degrees… At the same time, we know we have work to do.”

According to King, the state currently has a graduate rate of 73 percent, but only about half of graduating students are adequately prepared for college or a career. Hence, of the cohort entering high school, a mere 37 percent of the group is equipped for post-secondary life.

The situation cries out for intervention from school leaders, King said.

“Principals cannot simply be the managers for their buildings,” he said. “We have to have a multi-dimensional view of what it takes to provide effective instructional leadership.”

This effort partly involves principals having more presence in the classrooms to gather evidence about teacher practice and student learning. After collecting this data, principals must then provide high-quality, evidence-based, constructive feedback and regularly dialogue with teachers and other administrators to make actionable change.

“How do you focus the whole community on the gap between our aspiration of college and career readiness, and the reality of the distance we have yet to travel?” King said. “That is the task, I believe, of the effective principal—to have that vision, to articulate that vision, to engage teachers around that vision, and to engage the whole school community in this work.”

James J. Hennessy, Ph.D., dean of GSE, noted that the role of the principal has lately been reduced to the task of appraising teachers.

James J. Hennessy, Ph.D., dean of GSE Photo by Leo Sorel

“I would hope that the conversation will broaden back to the principal’s role in improving learning,” he said.

“The university surrounding is a great place to have these high-level conversations, but eventually we have to bring down to the level of the school building how we build a community, how we engage in trust, how we continue the dialogue, and how we truly collaborate.”

Sponsored by GSE’s Division of Educational Leadership, Administration and Policy (ELAP), the conference included a panel of New York education administrators, who commented on King’s remarks, and discussed the challenges facing New York school leaders. The panel featured:

Anthony Conelli, Ph.D., deputy chief academic officer for leadership, NYC Department of Education;
Marilyn Terranova, Ph.D., superintendent of the Eastchester School District and president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents;
Ernest Logan, president of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators; and
Jason Griffiths, headmaster of the Brooklyn Latin School.

“It’s very important [to convene]because sometimes leadership can be very lonely,” said Gerald Cattaro, Ed.D., chair of ELAP. “These [gatherings]are critical in the lives of leaders.”


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