Q. You have been in the New York City public school system for a long time. What is your background?
A. I started teaching in a middle school in District Three. And I taught math to fifth-graders. Eventually I also taught humanities to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. I went on to teach at a high school in Harlem, where I taught math and then became assistant principal. Then I had the chance to start my own school in the Bronx. I founded a school called Bronx International High School on the Morris Campus. It was designed to specifically serve students who are recent immigrants and are learning English for the first time.
Q. What do you do now?
A. I am the Department of Education’s Chief Accountability Officer. We’re in charge of evaluating school quality through the Progress Report and the Quality Review processes. We also provide achievement resources to support schools around formative assessment inquiry teams and ARIS, and work closely with other divisions on other instructional supports.
Q. What is the New York City School Survey? What does the survey assess?
A. The NYC School Survey is the largest annual survey in the county – it is, in fact, second in size only to the census, which is done every 10 years. We reach out to all of our parents and all teachers and all kids who are in sixth grade and older to understand what their perspectives are on the environment in their school. And so we look at a number of different factors: the safety of the school, the academic tone, the relationships that exist between teachers and students, between the students, and between teachers and the principal and other administrators.
We try to create a qualitative portrait through the survey of what’s working and what’s not in the schools, so that schools can get real feedback on what the different members of the school community think needs to be improved.
Q. As a former principal, how did you use feedback from teachers and parents and students to make decisions?
A. We never had surveys when I was a principal, but there were more informal ways that feedback came in. Basically I think that good leaders are actively working to engage the different constituencies in their school community to understand what their needs are and to figure out how to adjust what’s happening inside the school in order to meet those needs.
And so that may take the form of creating opportunities for parents to also access learning opportunities like ESL classes or computer classes or job training classes. It might take the form of providing students with more choices around the elective courses that they are taking in the school. It could take the form of strengthening the opportunities for professional development and collaboration that teachers have.
Hopefully the survey isn’t the only stream of information that is coming in, but it’s an important one, and it’s one that really provides those of us outside of a school a vantage point to understand what some of the patterns are that are emerging in a school. So that if all the kids say it’s unsafe, or all the teachers are feeling like they aren’t being supported, that’s a big red flag that tells us we need to get in there and do some more support.
Inversely, if people are saying the expectations are really high, I know there is going to be support for me to go to college, and to go through that process there is really strong trust among the teachers, those are signs that that’s a place where we need to look for effective practices. Q. Have you heard from principals that this is a successful tool?
A. Yeah, in general I think the feedback’s been positive. Some principals are concerned that people who are dissatisfied will use it in a negative way. We’ve found that there are always some folks who take that approach. But in general you’re getting a really good temperature of this whole community.
Q. Why should parents, teachers, and students fill out the survey?
A. It’s a chance to have their voices heard. And to really provide their colleagues as well as the leadership of their schools with meaningful feedback that can be used to improve schools.