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Queens Chronicle

What is the role of school networks?

Some say nonregional supports are shadowy, a waste of money

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:50 am, Thu Mar 7, 2013.

Don’t know what networks are?

Neither did many of the parents and school leaders at the District 30 Community Education Council meeting last Thursday who called the networks inaccessible and a waste of money.

Networks are like school districts but they are nongeographical, which means a school from the Bronx can be in a network with a school from Queens. Principals pick which network they want to join based on a variety of factors ranging from if most of the schools in the group are a certain type — elementary, middle or high school — to if the principal shares similar methodologies with the other principals in the network.

Twelve years ago the Department of Education switched from districts based in a region, with an office located in the neighborhood, to the network model.

Parents were told that the move was in keeping with Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s “Children First” plan, which, according to the DOE, allows networks to deal with operational problems and therefore gives principals more time to devote to instruction and supervision. Children First Network employees help principals improve their scores on evaluations and curricula and are accountable for a school’s performance ratings.

But with this supposed streamlining a direct link from the parents to the district has been lost. The network representatives at Thursday’s meeting said they could be reached directly, but many people disagree.

“The concern heard by parents, back when implemented, was the lack of transparency supportingour schools and it still seems to hit a nerve with parents today,” Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens’ representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, said in an email.

Although network employees visit schools weekly, Fedkowskyj said these people should attend the monthly CEC meeting as well as parent teacher associations to address transparency. Two network employees attended Thursday’s CEC meeting, but by invitation.

Network representatives said they could be reached easily online, but CEC member Michelle Noris said this posed a problem. She said many parents in District 30 don’t own computers and if they do they don’t have time to wade through the complicated DOE website, on which Noris said she spent an hour on Thursday to find the contact information she was looking for.

“You are not communicating with the typical New York City parent,” Noris said, adding that a bilingual letter introducing the network’s role should be backpacked home to all parents.

Conversely, Noris said, not only do the parents not know the networks but the networks don’t know the parents. Years back a network ran a meeting at a predominately non-English- speaking school and the members didn’t bring a translator, Noris said. She said this underscores the disconnect.

In 2011, PS 17, in Astoria, had a problem with its principal, who has since been removed. The network didn’t get involved until the last minute, CEC member Valarie LaMour Shea said, “and then it was like pulling teeth.”

Parent Deborah Alexander said in an email, “As a member of PS 150’s Student Leadership Team, I was vaguely aware of Networks.I knew they were there for ‘support,’ but more in a conflict-resolution context rather than as a proactive resource.”

There are about 50 networks, with about 15 employees in each. These networks report to about six clusters that report to top administrators and the schools chancellor.

Network employees typically make the salary of a school administrator, although a few make that of a teacher. When networks were implemented the DOE said it would streamline services and save money, according to Fedkowskyj.

“Sounds like a waste of money, because I never see you,” LaMour Shea said. “I think there are better ways to get services.”

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