Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education has been selected through a competitive process as a New York Department of Education partnership support organization (PSO) as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sweeping educational reforms that will give all of New York City’s public schools greater autonomy.

“That we were selected as one of only nine partnership support organizations speaks to the regard that the New York City Department of Education has for Fordham,” said James Hennessy, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Education. “This project will allow us to deepen our involvement with schools because this work won’t be at the theoretical level. We’re going to be in those buildings working with teachers and administrators to help improve student learning.”

Anita Batisti, Ph.D. Photo by Victor M. Inzunza

The five-year contract with the New York City Department of Education will allow the School of Education to work with as many as 40 K-12 schools beginning in July. In the fall, all school principals at more than 1,400 schools in the sprawling city system will be given more direct control over hiring, curriculum, budgets and other key functions in exchange for greater accountability for student academic achievement.

“This has never been done in New York City,” said Anita Batisti, Ph.D., associate dean at GSE. As director of the Fordham Center for Educational Partnerships, she will head up the project. “It’s a new paradigm, a new way of thinking and this partnership represents a wonderful opportunity for Fordham to be part of the effort to empower New York City schools. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein revolutionized the school system by dividing the city into 10 regions and now they’re initiating this new plan to give principals the power to make decisions about their schools.

“It’s not a top-down approach anymore,” she said. “Decisions are now in the hands of the principals and if you are going to be held accountable, you need that authority. At Fordham, we’re more than ready to take this project on based on our long history of training teachers and principals and all of the outreach programs and services that we have in schools.”

In an effort to help principals achieve the higher standards, the school district will allow principals to select the support system that they believe will best lead to better teaching and learning. Principals have three options:  becoming an “empowerment school,” with administrators receiving help from a network of other principals; working with one of four learning support organizations to be created by former regional superintendents; or teaming with an institution outside the school system, or PSO.

Klein announced the nine organizations that have been selected as PSOs at a news conference on April 16. Fordham and the City University of New York were the only higher education institutions among the organizations selected. As a PSO, Fordham will provide any school that opts to partner with it a host of services from helping interpret student test data and developing a customized plan for using school resources, to identifying community-based organizations that could provide services to students and their families.

At the heart of GSE’s effort to help schools will be a diagnostic-prescriptive approach. Batisti said that such an approach uses a medical model of problem-solving by first diagnosing the problem and then prescribing a solution. GSE intends to hire eight staff members and graduate assistants who will work with the administrators and teachers to determine needs and coordinate the work of consultants and experts.

“The staff that we will assemble will not do everything related to supporting 40 schools,” Batisti said. “Instead, the staff will galvanize the resources needed. That is the essence of what we are trying to do: provide direct access to expertise that can be brought to bear in a focused and aligned way in dealing with challenges that a particular school faces.”

In addition to the eight staff members, who will be based near the Rose Hill campus, Batisti said that a number of faculty experts from GSE’s three divisions will be involved in providing assistance to the schools. GSE is already working with hundreds of urban schools and teachers through various initiatives, including the New York City Teaching Fellows, a math coaching program for teachers, two Bilingual Education Technical Assistance Center, and grant project funded by the New York State Department of Education to establish a bilingual school psychology support center.