NEW YORK CITY
Fourth grade teacher Heidi Fernandez leads a discussion at PS 126 in New York City.
Believing that teachers are the key to boosting student performance, District 2
Superintendent Anthony Alvarado, an innovator and risk-taker, set out to improve the
quality of instruction throughout his area of Manhattan. By cutting central
staff, he reallocated funds to invest in teacher training. He sent literacy experts and mentors
to coach teachers in the classroom. He held principals accountable as instructional leaders,
not building managers. When teachers and principals didn't perform, they were replaced.
Surprisingly, his passion for excellence garnered the support of the teachers union. Alvarado's
strategy paid off: District 2's student achievement increased from 10th to 2nd among New York City's
32 school districts during his 11-year tenure.
Starting in 1996 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Superintendent Eric Smith
focused on meeting state standards and insuring equity among the urban and suburban
schools. Smith and the district leadership replaced site-based management with
a more top-down approach, establishing a district-wide curriculum along with
pacing guides to keep teachers on track and on target. For its inner city, low
performing schools, the district provided
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additional support and resources to
level the playing field and help students meet standards.
To monitor progress, the district relied heavily on data from frequent testing. When Smith left,
his successor, James Pughsley continued this strategy in order to sustain the
gains that had been made under Smith and insure continuity of district reform.
SAN DIEGO, CA
The supreme test for district-wide reform is replication in a new setting. Anthony Alvarado
faced that challenge in 1998 when invited to San Diego as Superintendent Alan Bersin's academic
chancellor. Using a blueprint of the District 2 strategy, the Bersin-Alvarado team moved rapidly to
improve instruction by reallocating funds to provide better training and mentoring for teachers,
and by creating a leadership academy to train new principals in the Alvarado method. Their haste
and boldness backfired. A narrow 3-2 pro-reform majority on the school board produced constant
in-fighting over the reform and the local teachers union openly opposed the top-down strategy.
Although the district showed improved student achievement, the Bersin-Alvarado team failed to
build sufficient political support from key constituencies to sustain reform. In the school
board election of 2004, opponents of the Bersin reform won control and wasted little time in
dismantling reform measures and terminating Bersin's contract.