Volume 16 • Issue 14 | September 2 - 8, 2003


NEWS



I.S. 89 readies for new curriculum

By Elizabeth O’Brien

The mayor’s sweeping education reforms will face their first real test when New York City public schools resume classes next week, but the “disequilibrium” in the new system will not affect the instruction at I.S. 89, principal Ellen Foote said last week.

I.S. 89 must adopt the citywide curriculum this fall, unlike many local schools that made the list of approximately 328 schools granted a one or two-year waiver to continue with their own programs. But the new math and literacy lessons will not represent a big departure from what the school has always taught, Foote has said.

Instead, the lingering uncertainty at I.S. 89 in Battery Park City and elsewhere largely concerns how individual schools, principals and parents will communicate with an educational administration that was radically altered over the past few months. In January, Mayor Mike Bloomberg made plans to replace the city’s 32 neighborhood school districts with 10 regional offices. These regional offices opened in July, when 10 regional supervisors and 112 local instructional supervisors took their posts.

“I think everyone is very confused about the restructuring,” Foote said.

Foote said that over the summer she had difficultly reaching people in the Region 9 office, which covers the old community school districts 1, 2, 4 and 7. Voice mailboxes were often full, she said, staff shuffles made it hard to tell whom to contact with questions. Correspondence from the Department of Education often includes a disclaimer to the effect of “subject to change without notice,” Foote said.

Foote also said that only the new teachers at I.S. 89 went to the Dept. of Education classes over the summer for training to teach the new curriculum.

Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said the restructuring is an improvement to the system. “The regional offices are open for business,” she said adding that the new system offered more channels of communication than before.

In addition to the change in the administrative hierarchy, whereby principals now report directly to a local instructional supervisor, who in turn reports to a regional superintendent, the structure of parental involvement has also been altered. Parent councils, as well as a full-time coordinator in each school, are expected to take some responsibility for parent participation away from the local school boards, which are being phased out completely.

Parents and educators say that they need to begin using the new system before they can tell how it will work. Schools open to students Sept. 8.

While questions remain about the overall educational system, the citywide math and literacy lessons will not be very different from what students and teachers are used to at I.S. 89, Foote said.

“There’s a lot of continuity,” Foote said. “I don’t know that you’ll see many changes here at 89.”

For example, two teachers already at I.S. 89 will assume the positions of the new, in-house math and literacy coaches required of schools following the uniform curriculum, Foote said. In addition, instructors at I.S. 89 have traditionally used textbooks only as a resource to be supplemented extensively with handouts, and this will not change when the school adopts the standard curriculum, she added.

Alyssa Adams, former P.T.A. co-chair of I.S. 89, said she was glad to hear there would be few changes to the school’s curriculum. But Adams was concerned when told that I.S. 89’s after-school academic support sessions would be reduced from seven months to four or five, a decision that the school made in response to overall citywide budget cuts, Foote said.

“That’s not right,” said Adams, whose son attended the twice-weekly math and literacy sessions last year and will start eighth grade next week.

Foote said that one bright spot amid the unavoidable budget cuts and the uncertainty has been the support of the local instructional supervisor overseeing I.S. 89, Annie Zimmer.

“She’s been incredibly responsive,” Foote said.

The I.S. 89 principal also praised Peter Heaney, the regional supervisor for Region 9 who took over the position when Shelley Harwayne retired unexpectedly last month.

“I’m thrilled to have Peter,” Foote said. Heaney was the principal of P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when Foote’s two children attended the school. “I think he’s really capable. He knows the system.”

Foote said that she felt confident that I.S. 89 would enjoy a successful start to the school year in spite of the system-wide upheaval.

Adams said she admired Schools Chancellor Joel Klein for taking on the mayor’s bold school reforms, but that she would take a wait-and-see approach on the overall restructuring.

“It’s going to be bumpy for the first six months,” Adams said.

Elizabeth@DowntownExpress.com


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