NYC schools Chancellor David Banks lays out plans to trim bureaucracy in speech

New York City school chancellor David Banks laid out the first concrete steps Wednesday towards his pledge to trim the Education Department’s sprawling central bureaucracy — vowing to eliminate the “executive superintendent” position created by former Chancellor Richard Carranza.

The vow to cut the jobs of eight high-ranking DOE officials in charge of overseeing district superintendents and principals across the five boroughs came during Banks’s first major speech since taking the helm of the Education Department in January.

“We’re going to streamline what I consider some level of waste within this department,” Banks said to a crowd of DOE staffers at Tweed Courthouse. “We have not gotten the level of value added to our schools that is needed from having those positions,” Banks explained.

He promised instead to “bolster” the authority of 32 district superintendents and give principals with a track record of success additional freedom.

Banks said he would consider additional cuts to the DOE’s borough offices to further trim the agency’s central offices. He added that cutting the executive superintendent jobs could help redirect money to school budgets, though it’s unclear how much impact the money saved from the eight positions would have when spread across 1,600 schools.

In the nearly 40-minute address, which Banks later said he largely had to “ad-lib” because his teleprompter wasn’t working, the new schools chancellor repeated past criticism of the low reading proficiency rates for Black and Hispanic students, pledging to retool literacy instruction citywide by screening more kids for dyslexia and pushing more schools to adopt phonics-based reading instruction.

“I have met really smart committed people… putting in long hours and very committed and yet the results we have as a school system is completely dysfunctional,” Banks said.

He cited techniques used by the Windward School, an Upper East Side private institution that specializes in teaching kids with dyslexia, as a model for the approach he hopes to use, and proposed an advisory council of DOE teachers who have had success teaching reading.

Banks lamented declining enrollment, pointing to declines in the student population that began years before the pandemic and accelerated during the past two years as an “indictment on the work we’ve done.”

He laid out several ideas to improve school performance, including expanding vocational education and creating an internal DOE system to highlight effective schools.

The new chancellor said he’s also planning to revive a Bloomberg-era system that gave high-performing principals additional autonomy and exempted them from some regulations.

Following a citywide uptick in youth gun violence and a surge in weapons confiscated in schools — many of them “self-protective” devices like tasers and pepper spray students say they bring to protect themselves on public transit — Banks said he’s working with the NYPD to hire more School Safety Agents, whose ranks have diminished from roughly 5,000 in spring 2020 to closer to 3,600 now.

City officials are still looking into technology they say could replace traditional metal detectors in schools while still finding weapons, Banks said. He declined to name specific companies the city is speaking to, saying “there’s some companies further along and some promising opportunities but we’re not there yet.”

Banks also elaborated on plans to expand a permanent remote learning option for city families, saying the DOE is working on creating a fully virtual academy with a principal and teachers who all work remotely and students who attend class solely online.