In his first policy speech earlier this month, new Chancellor Dennis Walcott extended an olive branch to teachers. Now he’s reaching out to principals, telling them that simplifying their jobs is one of his top goals.

“One of my top priorities is to free up more of your time so that you can focus on the critical tasks that directly improve student achievement,” Walcott wrote in this week’s Principals Weekly email, the first to contain a letter from him.

While Walcott has said repeatedly that he plans to continue the school policies that Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein established, his note indicates a subtle — but meaningful — divergence. Klein considered principals the CEOs of their schools and emphasized their management responsibilities, many of which brought new paperwork requirements. Walcott’s letter focuses instead on principals’ role as instructional leaders.

Walcott told principals he would starting working soon with their union and the groups that support them to “reduce even further the burden on your time of non-instructional tasks.”

Teachers and principals have complained in recent years about mounting levels of paperwork they are required to complete. A teacher who retired early in 2009 cited the mounting paperwork as a chief reason for her exit from the classroom. And research suggests that the burden of paperwork tends to fall most heavily on low-performing, high-needs schools, which compose much of the city’s school system.

Walcott’s complete message to principals is below.

Dear Colleagues,

Over the past nine years I’ve met many of you at your schools and at meetings and events, and it’s an honor for me to address you as Chancellor for the first time in Principals’ Weekly. I want to begin by thanking you for all of the exceptional work you do every day for our students. We have hard work ahead of us to ensure that our students graduate college and career ready, but I am confident that we will be successful because of our talented and dedicated school leaders and teachers, and supportive parents.

I’ve seen you in action and I know how hard you work every day, whether you’re observing classrooms, providing feedback to teachers, leading teams to develop targeted supports for struggling students, actively involving parents in your work, or meeting one-on-one with students.

Your time is precious, and one of my top priorities is to free up more of your time so that you can focus on the critical tasks that directly improve student achievement. In the coming weeks, we will work with the CSA, principal advisory groups, and cluster and network leaders to begin an effort to reduce even further the burden on your time of non-instructional tasks.

As we work to implement Common Core standards in order to prepare students with high-level skills they need for college and careers, we’ll need you to work with your teachers to develop strategies that help students meet these standards. That’s why we will do our best to minimize the flow of work that comes to you from central, with the overarching goal of freeing up more of your time so that you can spend it supporting your school community, developing your teaching staff, and enhancing academic instruction. Indeed, one of the key objectives of Principals’ Weekly is to provide you with a clear sense of the operational and academic tasks you need to accomplish, and we will continue working to streamline it so that you can properly delegate and plan for that work.

We know you have many thoughts on this topic and I encourage you to share your ideas and suggestions by sending an e-mail to principalrecommendations@schools.nyc.gov.

Sincerely,

Dennis M. Walcott
Chancellor