Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Firing of New York School Chief Points Up High Turnover RateAt Top of US City School Districts GOVERNING US CLASSROOMS

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Firing of New York School Chief Points Up High Turnover RateAt Top of US City School Districts GOVERNING US CLASSROOMS

Article excerpt

LAST week's dismissal of New York City Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez continues a pattern of revolving doors at the top of urban school systems.

Mr. Fernandez's tumultuous three-year term lasted longer than some might have expected, however. The average tenure of a big-city superintendent (or chancellor, as the position is called in New York) is two years, says Michael Casserly, interim executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools in Washington.

Forty of the 44 big-city school districts in the council have superintendents who have been in office only since 1990, Mr. Casserly says. "And several of those positions are already starting to turn over," he adds.

New York City, whose 970,000 students make it the largest school district in the United States, has had six school chiefs in the past decade. Since Fernandez left Dade County, Fla., for New York three years ago, the Miami-area district has gone through three different superintendents.

"If there's one thing that inner-city children don't have at every level of their lives, it's stability. This is just one more instability in a very important realm," says Jeanne Frankl of the Public Education Association, a private group that monitors New York's public schools.

The high turnover rate of school leaders is a problem with multiple roots, Casserly says. The job involves high demands for results and many urban communities are desperately seeking achievement gains for their students.

Fernandez gained accolades for some of his ideas, such as creating smaller high schools. But he created an uproar over social issues. The chancellor and the Board of Education battled over AIDS education, condom distribution, and a curriculum urging tolerance of homosexuals.

The recent publication of Fernandez's autobiography also fanned the flames of controversy. The book includes frank criticisms of nearly all the people responsible for deciding who should lead the New York school system, including school-board members, Mayor David Dinkins, and Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. Several board members have said the book contributed to their decision not to keep Fernandez in his job.

Others view the book as Fernandez's unofficial resignation. "How much did he really want to stay?" asks Sy Fliegel, a fellow with the Center for Educational Innovation at the Manhattan Institute. "I'll give you a choice: Either he was stupid or he really wanted out because you don't write what he wrote ... and then be shocked to see that people are unhappy."

In an interview with the Monitor several weeks ago, Fernandez said he had not made up his mind about whether to stay on in New York after his contract expires in June. …

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