Principals will soon get back an hour every day to focus on instructional leadership, if Chancellor Dennis Walcott achieves his goal of taking tasks off of school leaders’ plates.

Walcott has said since taking office in April that he wanted to simplify principals’ jobs. But even as he has directed principals to spend more time observing teachers and rolling out new curriculum standards, principals have still had to wade through a seemingly endless list of tasks handed down from Department of Education headquarters.

That list is starting to shrink. In a message to principals today, Walcott said the city has taken concrete steps to simply principals’ jobs. The steps include linking school records and city health records so that principals don’t have to chase down students’ immunization records; pre-populating some reporting forms with school data; and reducing the number of times principals have to give feedback about their satisfaction.

The DOE has also convened a team of officials in the Office of School Support to find more ways to reduce the time principals spend on tasks assigned centrally, Walcott said. And the department is working on making some data systems more user-friendly, including the brand-new Special Education Student Information System, which some principals say has been problematic since launching.

“You’ve sent a clear message: you are passionately engaged in raising the rigor of the work that your teachers and students do, but too many of you are frustrated by demands coming from outside of your school that do not contribute to your core work,” Walcott wrote in the Principals Weekly newsletter last night.

“The goal is clear: I want to give you back an hour each day to direct toward the core work of your school,” he wrote.

Ali Shama, principal of Francis Lewis High School in Queens, said any changes to allow principals to focus on “the important work of teaching and learning” are welcome.

“It’s good to know that the DOE is listening and looking closely at the principal surveys and making adjustments on their end to address what many of us have been saying,” Shama said. “That’s how good systems run.”

Walcott’s complete letter to principals is below.

Dear Colleagues:

I’m writing to congratulate you on a successful school opening and to update you on a promise I made in my first days as Chancellor. As I’ve visited schools over the last week, I’ve seen firsthand the transformative work you are undertaking to introduce new instructional standards, but I’ve also been reminded of the administrative demands that compete for the time and resources necessary to do this essential work.

In feedback sessions last spring that involved more than 1,400 principals, e-mails that you’ve sent to me, and your responses to the spring satisfaction survey, you’ve sent a clear message: you are passionately engaged in raising the rigor of the work that your teachers and students do, but too many of you are frustrated by demands coming from outside of your school that do not contribute to your core work.

I want to highlight changes that are in progress as a result of your feedback:

  • We’re simplifying tasks and building in more time so you can focus on instructional and leadership needs.
    • We are working to streamline the CEP to focus on core school goals while satisfying legal mandates.
    • We are condensing the administration of the Principals’ Satisfaction Survey and only requesting your time and feedback in that forum once, each spring.
  • We’re coordinating across central offices and City agencies to collect data centrally rather than from your school, and improving the way we share information with your school.
    • For the first time, we connected student health information with City immunization records to reduce the amount of immunization paperwork schools have to collect.
    • We are currently piloting a survey tool on the Principals’ Portal that simplifies information collection by pre-populating data we already have about your school.
    • We are preparing to share redesigned Progress Reports with you in the next few weeks that incorporate your insightful feedback and will make it easier to analyze and communicate the results to your school community.
  • We’re working to make systems easier to use.
    • We automated the creation of promotion-in-doubt letters in ATS last spring.
    • We’ll be adding a search tool in FAMIS to help you find what you need.
    • We know that the rollout of SESIS has presented your teams with challenges and are looking at ways to make it easier to use.

I know that we have more to do to make a real impact on the balance of your work. We’ve identified a central team, housed in the Office of School Support, to lead the work to reduce the time you spend on tasks from central offices and maximize the time you spend supporting your school community, developing your teaching staff, and enhancing academic instruction. The goal is clear: I want to give you back an hour each day to direct toward the core work of your school.

Your feedback has been essential to our progress thus far and I encourage you to share your ideas and suggestions by sending an e-mail to principalrecommendations@schools.nyc.gov. I am committed to making the changes described in this letter as the first round of many intended to make room for deeper, more powerful work in our schools, and I look forward to collaborating further as we continue this process.

Sincerely,