Transition at Tweed

Fariña promotes longtime principal, Bloomberg-era deputy to top posts

Deputy Chancellor of Equity and Access Dorita Gibson spoke at an event promoting the Young Men's Initiative in October 2012.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promoted a Bloomberg-era official and plucked a longtime principal from his Brooklyn school today as she began to fill out the Department of Education’s inner circle.

Dorita Gibson, previously the deputy chancellor for equity and access, will be Fariña’s second in command, the Department of Education announced today. In her previous position, Gibson supervised the department’s system of alternative schools and its work with the Bloomberg administration’s Young Men’s Initiative, and launched new programs to diversify selective high schools.

Phil Weinberg, principal of the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, is the department’s new deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. That position, which Fariña herself held a decade ago, disappeared in 2010 when the department dissolved its division of teaching and learning.

Weinberg has chosen the city’s former gifted education chief, Anna Commitante, to be his top deputy. Commitante had been working as a deputy in one of the department’s five “clusters,” providing instructional support to dozens of schools.

Together, the three appointments offer the clearest picture yet about Fariña’s priorities. All three of the new hires have been in the system for decades and have been teachers and principals in the school system.

Gibson has served at almost every level of school leadership, starting as a teacher in Queens and serving as a principal, regional superintendent and deputy superintendent. Her appointment as senior deputy chancellor also signals that Fariña doesn’t intend to purge some Bloomberg-era policies and appointees from the department.

“We’ve done such great work in the last 11, 12 years of this administration. We have great schools. We have great programs,” Gibson told Chalkbeat in August. “But how do we as a school system make sure that all of our kids, regardless of their color and socioeconomic background, succeed in these programs?”

Weinberg has served as the principal at Telecommunication since 2001, the school where he started his career as an English teacher in 1986, according to a New York Times story highlighting his longevity as a principal.

Weinberg has also voiced concerns about the new teacher evaluation system, which he said put too much faith in data, rather than principals’ judgment. “Newly necessary distractions like marketing and fund-raising and data analysis may have seemed more important than getting into classrooms and working with teachers on how to plan lessons and ask questions,” he wrote in 2012.

The city’s complete press release is below.

CHANCELLOR FARIÑA ANNOUNCES NEW APPOINTMENTS AT DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION HEADQUARTERS

Veteran Educators to Lead Tweed into a New Era of School Support

New Leadership Will Renew Emphasis on Improving Instruction to Enhance Learning

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced new members of her leadership team at Department of Education (DOE) headquarters. Dorita Gibson, previously the Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access, will assume the role of Senior Deputy Chancellor and the Chancellor’s second in command. With more than 30 years experience in the public school system, Dr. Gibson has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, regional and supervising superintendent, and Deputy Chancellor. In this new and expanded role, she will oversee all aspects of school support, Cluster and Network management, superintendents, support for struggling schools, District 79 programs, and school communications.

As head of Equity and Access under Chancellor Walcott, Deputy Chancellor Gibson oversaw District 79, a citywide network of over 300 alternative schools and programs serving over-age, under-credited youth; the Office of Adult and Continuing Education; and the Department’s Young Men’s Initiative work. She created the DREAM-SHSI program, which helps low-income middle school students develop skills for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, as well as the Summer Quest program, which provides students with summer learning opportunities aimed at closing the achievement gap. As she moves into the Department’s number two role, Dr. Gibson will bring her considerable expertise in expanding opportunities for underserved school communities.

Chancellor Fariña also appointed Phil Weinberg, previously the principal at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn, as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning. With more than a dozen years as a principal and nearly three decades of experience in New York City public schools, Mr. Weinberg will oversee all professional development and curriculum, performance and accountability, Common Core and college-readiness initiatives, Career and Technical Education, and instructional support. The high school Mr. Weinberg has led since 2001 has achieved a more than 35 percent increase in graduation rates since 2005. The recipient of a 2012 Sloan Award for Public Service, Mr. Weinberg previously served on the DOE’s Division of Academics, Performance, and Support Advisory Group.

In one of his first acts as Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Mr. Weinberg named Anna Commitante as his Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. A 27-year veteran educator, Ms. Commitante was previously a Deputy Cluster Leader of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. In her new role, she will provide leadership in curriculum development, assist schools as they transition to the Common Core Learning Standards, and direct a comprehensive professional development training program using research-based instructional methods.

“This is a new era for our schools, and these appointments send a clear message: our focus is on improving each and every classroom across the five boroughs. Having three educators with such extraordinary expertise about our City’s schools will help us channel all of our energy into quality instruction,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Principals, teachers, and staff should know they will have leaders who will not only listen, but take action to support them. This is the first step in the process of making our school system more in touch, more responsive, and more mindful of those we work with and serve.”

“With more than three decades working on behalf of City students, I’m honored to take on this role as Chancellor Fariña’s second in command. My plan is to support schools no matter what their challenges may be – instructionally, operationally, or otherwise,” said Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson. “As I work to support all of our schools, I will lead by listening. We’re taking a new tone – and we plan to back it up with action.”

“I started my career as a teacher over 28 years ago, and I’m so proud to be named to this instrumental new role today. I first became a teacher because I believed it was the most authentic way I could contribute to our community. In this new role as Deputy Chancellor, I have the ability to work with, support, and empower those on the ground doing the hard work of educating our students each day,” said Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Phil Weinberg. “The most important thing to a student’s success is the quality of a teacher, and all of my focus will be on developing and streamlining ways to enhance instruction.”

“This is a time of renewal for our schools, and I’m thrilled to be in in this role to help our schools during this transition to Common Core,” said Anna Commitante, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. “I’ve dedicated my career to the development of principals, teachers, and schools, and I look forward to continuing to do that. With our renewed focus on professional development, we will prepare our teachers like never before for the important work that lies ahead.”

About Dr. Dorita Gibson

Dr. Dorita Gibson has spent more than 30 years in the New York City school system as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal at various schools in Queens, and has served as a deputy, regional and senior supervising superintendent. Appointed Deputy Chancellor for Equity and Access in May 2011, Gibson oversees programs and initiatives that focus on ending long-standing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities and directing supports to high-need communities. She directs District 79, a citywide network of over 300 alternative schools and programs serving over-age, under-credited youth whose schooling has been interrupted, the Office of Adult and Continuing Education, as well as the Department’s Young Men’s Initiative work. As Deputy Chancellor, Gibson has expanded Advanced Placement courses in the City’s most underserved neighborhoods and communities. She also created the DREAM-SHSI program, which helps low-income middle school students develop skills for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, and the Summer Quest program to improve, expand, and sustain summer learning opportunities in the South Bronx as a key strategy for closing the achievement gap. Gibson holds a Doctorate in Education from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.

About Phil Weinberg

Phil Weinberg has nearly three decades of experience in New York City’s public schools. For more than a decade he taught English at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn. He later served as assistant principal there, and was named principal in 2001, a position he has held for 13 years. At this large, urban, high-poverty school, in which more than 70 percent of students are Title 1 eligible, Mr. Weinberg established small learning communities, through which his students saw extraordinary success: the graduation rate has increased by more than 35 percent since 2005. A 2012 recipient of the Sloan Award for Public Service, Mr. Weinberg holds a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College and a Master of Arts degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College.

About Anna Commitante

Anna Commitante, a 27 year veteran educator, was most recently Deputy Cluster Leader of Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development in Cluster 2. Previously, Ms. Commitante was the K-12 Director of Literacy, Social Studies and Gifted and Talented Programs for the NYC DOE. She began her career in education as an elementary school teacher at PS 29 in Brooklyn, worked in school support as a district literacy coach/staff developer, and led a job-embedded professional development program for schools at City Hall Academy. Ms. Commitante also served as principal of New Voices Middle School in District 15, Brooklyn, a school that offers a strong humanities curriculum and fully integrated arts program. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Hunter College and a degree in educational administration from City College.

here's the plan

After long wait, de Blasio backs plan to overhaul admissions at New York City’s elite high schools

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Eric Contreras is stepping down as principal of Stuyvesant High School.

After sustained pressure from advocates, Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing a two-step plan to reform admissions at eight of the city’s elite high schools and endorsing a specific replacement for the single-test admissions system.

The city’s specialized high schools — considered some of the crown jewels of New York City’s education system — accept students based on a single test score. Over the last decade, they have come under fire for offering admissions to few students of color: While two-thirds of city students are black or Hispanic, only about 10 percent of admissions offers to those schools go to black or Hispanic students.

De Blasio’s solution, laid out in an op-ed in Chalkbeat, would set aside 20 percent of the seats at the eight schools for students from low-income families starting next school year. Students who just missed the test score cut-off would be able to earn one of those set-aside seats through the longstanding “Discovery” program. Just 4 percent of seats were offered through that program in 2017.

The mayor also said he plans to push state lawmakers to change a law that requires admission at three of the schools to be decided by a single test score. That’s something de Blasio campaigned for during his run for mayor in 2014 but hasn’t made a priority since.

Most significantly, de Blasio says for the first time that he backs a system of replacing the admissions test with a system that picks students based on their middle school class rank and state test scores. The middle-school rank component is especially notable, as an NYU Steinhardt report found that the only way to really change the makeup of the elite high schools would be to guarantee admission to the top 10 percent of students at every middle school.

If all of these changes were implemented, de Blasio says that 45 percent of the student bodies at the eight high schools would be black or Latino.

Together, the proposals reflect the most specific plan yet to change a system that, year after year, becomes a symbol of New York City’s racially divided schools. But the changes de Blasio is proposing won’t come easily — and might not come at all.

The part of the plan that the city is promising to do on its own, expand the Discovery program, will only modestly improve diversity by the city’s own admission. And the plan’s more ambitious elements would require buy-in from state lawmakers who have repeatedly resisted de Blasio’s agenda and attempts to change admissions rules.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s plan does not include a move that many legal experts consider to be low-hanging fruit: changing the admissions rules at five of the eight schools without state approval.

While the city’s official position has long been that admissions at all eight schools are set by law, only three schools — Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School — are specifically mentioned, leaving room for the city to reclassify the others. (De Blasio recently said he would ask lawyers about that change, but has not signaled he plans to act.)

The Discovery program has also proved problematic for de Blasio, in part because it is open to all low-income students — something that is not equivalent to black or Hispanic in New York City. The de Blasio administration has already tripled the program’s size since taking office, but its share of black and Latino students has also shrunk.

A lot of questions about the plan remain unanswered. It’s not clear whether the 20 percent of set-aside seats will be spread across the eight schools evenly, for one, or whether some schools like Stuyvesant will have fewer seats earmarked for Discovery. De Blasio doesn’t explain exactly how an admissions system reliant on middle-school grades and standardized test scores would work.

It’s also unclear how the mayor plans to push against opposition from alumni groups and parents who may worry that changing the admissions rules will lower academic standards, though his rhetoric was sharp in the op-ed.

“Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative,” de Blasio wrote. “It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it.”

So far, de Blasio’s incremental steps to boost diversity at specialized high schools have made little change to the overall student body — and therefore garnered little pushback.

It’s unclear whether the lackluster results caused him to switch strategies. More recently, de Blasio has also been under pressure to address school segregation in the city as a whole.

He may also have been pushed by his new schools chancellor, who has been outspoken on the subject since taking the helm of the school system about two months ago. Chancellor Richard Carranza has been talking about the issue since his very first media interview, and has repeatedly hinted that he is interested in changing their admissions process.

“From my perspective it’s not OK to have a public school in a city as diverse… and that you have only 10 African-American students in a high school,” Carranza said in April. “So I’m looking at that, absolutely.”

sorting the students

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Our specialized schools have a diversity problem. Let’s fix it.

PHOTO: Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio hosts a town hall in Brooklyn in October.

I visit schools across this city and it never fails to energize me. The talent out there is outstanding. The students overflow with promise. But many of the smart kids I meet aren’t getting in to our city’s most prestigious high schools. In fact, they’re being locked out.

The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.

If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.

Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City. Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.

Right now, we are living with monumental injustice. The prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black.

There’s also a geographic problem. There are almost 600 middle schools citywide. Yet, half the students admitted to the specialized high schools last year came from just 21 of those schools. For a perfect illustration of disparity: Just 14 percent of students at Bronx Science come from the Bronx.

Can anyone defend this? Can anyone look the parent of a Latino or black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for?

Our best colleges don’t select students this way. Our top-level graduate schools don’t. There are important reasons why. Some people are good at taking tests, but earn poor grades. Other people struggle with testing, but achieve top grades. The best educational minds get it. You can’t write a single test that captures the full reality of a person.

A single, high-stakes exam is also unfair to students whose families cannot afford, or may not even know about, the availability of test preparation tutors and courses. Now, I’d like to stop and say, I admire the many families who scrape and save to pay for test prep. They are trying in every way to support their children.

But let’s ask ourselves: Why should families who can ill afford test prep have to spend their money on it? Why should families who can easily afford test prep have an advantage over those that cannot?

My administration has been working to give a wider range of excellent students a fair shot at the specialized high schools. Now we are going to go further. Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

This will immediately bring a wider variety of high-performing students, from a wider number of middle schools, to the specialized high schools. For example, the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent. The number of middle schools represented will go from around 310 to around 400.

This will also address a fundamental illogic baked into the high-stakes test. A great score and you might be in, but beware a point too low and you might be out. Now, a disadvantaged student who is just a point or two shy of the cut-off won’t be blocked from a great educational opportunity.

For a deeper solution, we will fight alongside our partners in the Assembly and Senate to replace the SHSAT with a new admissions process, selecting students based on a combination of the student’s rank in their middle school and their results in the statewide tests that all middle school children take.

With these reforms, we expect our premier public high schools to start looking like New York City. Approximately 45 percent of students would be Latino or black. As an example of growing geographical fairness, we will quadruple the number of Bronx students admitted.

I’ve talked a lot about bringing equity and excellence to our schools. This new admissions process will give every student in every middle school a fair shot. That’s equity. The new process will ask students to demonstrate hard work over time, and show brilliance in a variety of subjects. That’s excellence.

Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative. It’s a narrative that traps students in a grossly unfair environment, asks them to live with the consequences, and actually blames them for it. This perpetuates a dangerous and disgusting myth.

So let me be clear. The new system we’re fighting for will raise the bar at the specialized high schools in every way. The pool of talent is going to expand widely and rapidly. That’s going to up the level of competition. The students who emerge from the new process will make these schools even stronger.

They will also make our society stronger. Our most prestigious public high schools aren’t just routes to opportunity for deserving students and their families. They are incubators for the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. The kind of high schools we have today, will determine the kind of New York City we will have tomorrow.

Bill de Blasio is the mayor of New York City.