Business academy to shape up heads

3rd January 2003 at 00:00

New York's school leaders face raft of tough reforms. Stephen Phillips reports.

NEW York education chiefs last week waved $75,000 (pound;47,000) bonuses in front of high-flying headteachers willing to take on three- year tours of duty in the city's roughest schools. Headteachers are usually paid salaries of between $71,000 and $115,000.

Sketching out a bold new vision of heads as "chief instructional leaders", New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, flanked by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also pledged to fire "about 50 non-performing principals" by June.

The drastic measures are the latest in a raft of shake-ups for New York's 1,200 schools since Bloomberg assumed direct control of them in June and appointed Klein, a former high-profile lawyer, to spearhead a revamp.

Mirroring a US-wide malaise, interest in headships at New York's schools is at its lowest in decades. Vacancies have been drawing, on average, 12 applicants compared with more than 50, six years ago.

Meanwhile, half of New York's principals have less than five years'

experience, with many of the rest nearing retirement. Across America, more than 40 per cent of state school principals will retire within the next decade, according to the Educational Research Service.

Under plans to revitalise New York's school leadership ranks, a $15million leadership academy, modelled on former chief executive Jack Welch's management training programme at General Electric, will be opened to train rookie principals.

Executive recruitment agency KornFerry will be enlisted to mount a US-wide search for talent, including candidates from the business world and other non-education backgrounds.

Principals are to gain new managerial powers to appoint their own "leadership teams" and those drafted into failing schools will be shadowed by trainees, expected to take over at the end of three years.

But the plan faces opposition from New York's headteachers' union, which says the proposals should not have been publicised before being cleared by the union.

Contractual negotiations broke down earlier last week. Meanwhile, plans to convene a cabinet of 20 leading heads as policy advisers were viewed as a ploy to dislodge the union from its customary role.

Union leaders pledged to block all the measures until its members are granted a 10 per cent wage rise. Jill Levy, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, added that the proposal to dismiss heads for low test scores and unruly pupils scapegoated them for system-wide ills.

But a spokesman for New York's Department of Education said it was necessary to root out deadwood and ensure headships are entrusted to the most capable hands.

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