[ProgressiveEd] Letter to Shelley Harwayne

[email protected] [email protected]
Wed, 16 Apr 2003 12:06:15 EDT

This is a draft of a letter I intend to send to Ms. Harwayne.  Please 
comment.  I want to send it out right away. Thanks.  Bruce
                                        April 16, 2003
Shelley Harwayne
District 2
Dear Ms. Harwayne:
Congratulations on your appointment as Regional Superintendent for the new 
Region Nine within the Department of Education.  You have inherited a region 
with a rich educational history.  Many of the small progressive schools in 
New York City were begun in this region.  For instance, district four (East 
Harlem) is the birthplace of the CPE schools.  These schools maintain a high 
standard for excellence in helping teachers to learn to develop curriculum 
from children’s interests and needs.  
Recently, you visited Central Park East 1 and were not impressed.  I know 
that you have a wealth of experience with small schools and that you were 
very successful running a large and impressive school district.  It’s often 
hard to see the way a school functions from one visit (especially a short 
one).  I hoped you would have seen a lot of the things that I’m familiar with 
about CPE 1 during your visit.  For instance, the hallways are filled with 
student work.  This is work that children have planned, organized, created.  
It is through this work that individual children give expression to their 
thoughts, their wishes, and their experiences; this is also the work that 
teachers build curriculum around.  In the early childhood classrooms, 
children are immersed in stories.  On the day you visited, I understand that 
one of the fifth/sixth grade classes made a carrot cake.  A group of children 
in a third/fourth grade class were busy on the computer, revising a piece 
they had written. The classes were smaller when you visited because so many 
children were rehearsing in the CPE Mixed Chorus.  Music is a big part of the 
lives of children at Central Park East 1.  Central Park East 1 is not built 
around a rigid model.  Learning happens in many ways.  Sometimes, the teacher 
stands in the front of the room; sometimes, she sits in the circle with the 
children.  A great deal of instruction is done in small groups.  Student 
growth has to be observed over time.  The observer has to be open to seeing 
what is actually happening and not evaluating based on a set of expectations 
that may not be appropriate for that particular setting.
This brings me to my concern.  Central Park East 1 is a model school.  It is 
a wonderful place in which staff meets on a regular basis to reflect on their 
practice.  Children are engaged in discussions of their ideas; activities are 
designed to spur discussion.  Vocabulary builds naturally.  This is a model 
that many parents have chosen.  When they have problems with or questions 
about something that has gone on in the classroom, they contact the teacher 
or the school director.  There are no walls to exclude observation.  But the 
observer has to be open in order to be able to appreciate what is actually 
going on.  No, you might not see whole group instruction (it’s not that it 
never happens; it’s that it may not be going on at the moment you visit).  
But you will see lots of meaningful activities and teachers coaching and 
taking notes and encouraging students.  I know this because I have spent a 
great deal of time observing in classrooms, talking to parents, students, and 
staff, and learning from the multifaceted staff development that goes on 
You have a very large challenge ahead of you.  There are many schools in the 
new Region Nine that will need your firm guidance and understanding.  I 
believe that Central Park East 1 and a number of other schools in the Center 
for Collaborative Education network could be of great help to you in building 
a staff development model that works in a variety of settings.  It’s 
important, however, that people agree to value the work that is actually 
being done in each school and build on the strengths of each and every one of 
Thank you for your time and your concern.  I wish you all the luck in the 
world.  If I can be of any help, please let me know.
Bruce Kanze