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Age of New York heads plunges

Retirement of baby boomers and new smaller schools bring fresh-faced influx to Big Apple, reports Stephen Phillips

Smaller schools and efforts to broaden recruitment beyond traditional candidate pools are driving a dramatic influx of twenty and thirtysomethings into headteacher posts in New York City schools.

Some 274 of the 1,451 heads in America's largest education authority are under 41 this school year - four times the number of those over 60. In 2000, the number of heads in their 60s outstripped those aged 41 or younger, by 70 to 67. Back then, there were no heads under 31: as of the start of this school year there were 24.

The demographic shift marks a changing of the guard in the ranks of America's heads as baby boomers bow out and the next generation takes their place. But New York's story also reflects how structural changes in education could put a more youthful face on 21st century headship.

In the city's traditional big comprehensive-style schools, experience remains at a premium. They have up to 5,000 pupils each and most of their heads still fit the profile of veterans who have come up through the teaching ranks. But the creation of 196 small schools (classed as having fewer than 108 entrants per year) since 2002 has created opportunities for younger heads, said New York schools spokesman David Cantor.

"Small schools are making the job more appealing and manageable. They've become places for younger talent to cut their teeth," he said. Efforts to open up positions to non-traditional candidates have also brought in more youth, Mr Cantor added.

The average age of entrants to the New York City Leadership Academy, a management training scheme grooming dozens of new heads annually for schools, is 40, but participants have been as young as 26. The academy welcomes career changers and 10 per cent of entrants have come from outside the city's school system.

Daysi Garcia, 39, principal at the Little Red School House, a 600-student inner-city primary, has presided over a doubling of the number of nine-year-olds proficient in reading since she took over three years ago, after switching from an investment banking career via the scheme.

Scepticism about her relative youth spurred Ms Garcia to plunge herself in and prove she was no pushover, she said. "If I were 50 or 60, I don't know if I'd have the energy."

But the influx of younger heads comes amid dizzying turnover.

Since 2000-1, New York has gone through 853 heads, mostly due to high numbers retiring, but also due to resignations or heads being pushed out for poor performance or disciplinary infractions.

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