Losing A ‘Godsend To The Bronx’: Parents Push Back Against DOE Shakeup

Losing a ‘Godsend to the Bronx’: Parents Push Back Against DOE Shakeup

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For most residents of New York City, the recent change may have appeared mundane and bureaucratic. The announcement made by Schools Chancellor David Banks in early March stated that the executive superintendent role would be eliminated from the Department of Education’s internal structure, and district superintendents would be required to reapply for their positions. This information was briefly mentioned in an article published by The New York Times, covering the chancellor’s first major address as the head of the DOE.

However, for Ilka Rios, a parent residing in the Bronx, this news was shocking. She recalls being completely focused on the chancellor’s announcement, not hearing anything else that was said. To Rios, this update had a single implication: Her borough, which suffers from the highest poverty rates and lowest high school graduation rates in the city, would lose a leader who had made significant progress in improving the area’s schools. According to Rios, Dr. Tobia had been a valuable asset to the Bronx, and whenever there was someone who could help the borough progress, they would be taken away by someone from downtown.

Dr. Tobia, a 30-year veteran in education, had become the executive superintendent only 11 months prior. The position was established three years earlier, in 2018, by former Chancellor Richard Carranza, in order to enhance supervision and support for district superintendents. Chancellor Banks, who himself founded a high school in the Bronx, explained that the decision to eliminate these positions, totaling eight in number (one or two per borough), was motivated by the desire to allocate funds directly to schools.

The notion that parents would mobilize to preserve an additional bureaucratic layer is atypical, and it is worth noting that not all parents held the same positive opinion of their executive superintendents. Yuli Hsu, a parent in Brooklyn, voiced her support for the chancellor’s decision, stating that the executive level of superintendents only added unnecessary expenses and bureaucracy without any noticeable impact.

attempted to contact each of the city’s eight executive superintendents directly, but received no response. In the Bronx, Dr. Tobia’s commitment to prioritizing parents’ needs had gained the support of families. She organized food drives, facilitated sessions to build trust between campus police and families, and initiated a series of "Master Classes" for adult education that attracted numerous participants. Rios, who had served as the president of the Community Education Council in District 12 for nearly a decade, explained that Tobia regularly held meetings exclusively for parents to voice their concerns, which earned her significant respect and gratitude. District 8’s CEC president, Farah Despeignes, emphasized the importance of this newfound voice for parents in the Bronx and expressed disappointment over the elimination of the executive superintendent role.

As parents and school leaders throughout the city attempt to understand the new administration’s education agenda, they perceive the chancellor’s plans for this shakeup as an early indication of his priorities and willingness to involve the community. Rios, however, remains dissatisfied, highlighting that neither the chancellor nor the mayor consulted parent leaders about their experiences working with Dr. Tobia. She believes that the decision to eliminate the position could have been communicated more effectively, taking into consideration alternative ways to utilize Dr. Tobia’s expertise within the district.

Banks has indicated that he may still consider their advice, suggesting that some of the leaders could reappear in different positions within the Department of Education (DOE) even though the executive superintendent role will be abolished at the end of this school year.

During a state legislative hearing, Bronx Assemblywoman Chantel Jackson questioned Banks about his decision to eliminate the position that many of her constituents value.

Banks expressed understanding, saying, "I’ve received feedback from many Bronx parents who strongly support Executive Superintendent Tobia. Personally, I have grown fond of her in the two months that I have been here and have witnessed her work. So stay tuned."

A spokesperson for the DOE stated in a March 14 email to that they are actively working on finalizing the implementation of the chancellor’s announcement and will provide additional details soon.

Experts agree with Banks’s perspective that the role of executive superintendent adds unnecessary bureaucracy, which does not benefit schools and students enough. According to education professor David Bloomfield of Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, this additional layer actually limits the authority of local leaders.

"This is a win-win," Bloomfield added. With the transition to having 46 superintendents reporting to the chancellor instead of eight executive superintendents, the chancellor’s office will have more information to evaluate policies, and principals and superintendents will have more flexibility.

Since assuming office in January, Banks has consistently pledged to improve the city’s schools by granting principals more autonomy, reminiscent of the Bloomberg era.

Parent leaders like Kaliris Salas-Ramirez from Harlem believe that their schools became more responsive to the community once the executive superintendent role was introduced. Salas-Ramirez stated, "There was a systemic problem in my district where parents lacked empowerment and a voice. When the executive superintendents were introduced, Marisol [Rosales, the Manhattan leader at the time,] was extremely responsive to parents on the ground."

According to Andrea Gabor, author of After the Education Wars, this suggests that the issue may not have been the necessity of an additional bureaucratic layer but rather the inadequate performance of district superintendents like Salas-Ramirez’s.

"In an ideal world, teachers and principals should be the ones who respond to parents," Gabor said. "You shouldn’t have to go through so many layers to receive a response."

The DOE shares a similar viewpoint, stating that school leaders are successful when they work closely with families. They aim to minimize bureaucracy and support effective practices at the school level.

However, based on her experiences in the Bronx, Despeignes disagrees. She believes that although it adds another layer of bureaucracy, it is necessary to bring all the schools and superintendents together under one umbrella.

Bloomfield suggests that it is not unreasonable to eliminate executive superintendents in most boroughs but to maintain them in specific cases where they have a positive impact, as seen in the Bronx.

Tajh Sutton, president of District 14 Community Education Council in Brooklyn, acknowledges that the Adams administration still has significant work to do in building trust with families.

Hsu, who is also a member of the District 14 CEC, is in agreement. She has found it frustrating that no action has been taken after she raised concerns about the instances of anti-Asian racism that her kids and other students have experienced at school. According to Hsu, simply rearranging the organizational structure of the DOE is not enough.

According to her, it is merely a case of moving around parts of a faulty system. Instead, what she truly desires is to see substantial change starting from the grassroots level, as well as genuine engagement with parents.


  • joshwright

    Josh Wright is a 34-year-old educational blogger and school teacher who has been working in the field for over a decade. He has written extensively on a variety of educational topics, and is passionate about helping others achieve their educational goals.

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