Don't expect miracles anytime soon, but the new organization of schools announced by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Thursday may spell the beginning of the end to one of parents' most frustrating dilemmas: what to do when you can't get a problem resolved at your school.
Under Mayor Mike Bloomberg's organization of the school system, if your principal couldn't—or wouldn't—fix a problem, you were pretty much out of luck. Principals were "empowered," which means they didn't have supervisors. They only had coaches, called network leaders. If you called the network leader, you'd be told the network works for the principal, not the other way around. If you called your community school district or high school superintendent, you'd be told the superintendent has no authority. If you called your elected official, same story. If you called 311, your complaint would go back to the principal.
So let's say your child wasn't getting special education services, or the playground equipment at your school was dangerous, or the school safety agents were too aggressive with your child. Short of calling the chancellor directly, there wasn't much you could do.
Now, starting in July, there will be a clear chain of command. Fariña is giving superintendents the responsibility and the authority to fix problems parents bring to them. Principals will still have plenty of power—they will still be able to hire their own teachers and handle their own budgets. But for the first time since 2007, when the networks were created, principals will answer to superintendents.
Will this solve all of parents' issues? Naturally, it will depend on the competence and ability of the superintendents. There are tons of details to be worked out and lots of questions to be answered. But at least when parents call the superintendent, they will be talking to someone who has the authority to do something.