Many states are experiencing the shock of new governors who are breaking the mold of former elected officials. In past generations, new state governors created a transitional governing period during which they and their staffs could get up to speed on the operations and issues of their states’ governments. In 2007, many new governors are hitting the ground running. Transitional periods seem to be nonexistent with the newly elected governors barely settling into the governor’s residence before making changes within their states.

New York’s new democratic governor is such an elected official. Governor Eliot Spitzer was swore in on January 1st, taking his oath of office and delivering his inaugural speech. By the end of January, he already has formulated new plans to put the New York schools and its students back on the road to success.

Spitzer’s major push is his series of “Contracts for Excellence”, which are methods and programs to improve the New York schools and the education its students receive.

One initiative will provide a significant increase in state aid to poorly performing districts within the New York schools. Of course, this increase in funding has strings attached that the governor believes will set a new course for success for the problem schools. New York schools receiving the extra funding must justify any improvements to their facilities. They also must set goals for their New York schools’ students’ performance. If these New York schools meet their goals, they will receive special recognition for their success, along with the possibility of receiving even more funding. Failing to meet their goals, however, means these New York schools risk funding penalties and the removal of superintendents, principals, and even school district board members.

A second initiative from Spitzer is report cards for New York schools’ leadership. In a recent speech at the State Education building in Albany, Spitzer stated that currently only New York schools’ students and their schools receive report cards. Soon, the New York schools’ leadership will begin receiving annual report cards that will track the performance of district superintendents and individual school principals from year-to-year. For the first time, the New York schools will be able to rigorously compare and evaluate their performance with the report cards following them from one school district to another within the state of New York.

Other initiatives under Spitzer’s Contracts for Excellence for the New York schools are:

• A universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds within the New York schools’ area by 2010. All children deserve the opportunity to get a head start on education through this uniquely designed preschool period of acclimatization.

• The class sizes in the New York schools are much too large, making students in large classrooms difficult to teach and learning next to impossible for the children. Spitzer sees smaller class sizes as a must for educational success within the New York schools.

• Spitzer wants the cap on public charter schools within the New York schools to be raised from the current 100 to 250. Many see these public school academies as the solution to poor performing traditional New York schools. The charter schools also will be required to meet their own “Contract for Excellence” every five years in order to remain open.

• The governor wants to appoint a “Children’s Cabinet” to assist with and guide the improvement efforts of the New York schools. The cabinet will be comprised of regents, education experts, and the state education commissioner.

Lastly, Spitzer announced his appointment of Manny Rivera as his new deputy secretary for education. Rivera is the former superintendent of schools in Rochester, New York.

Though Spitzer did not provide any details of how his proposals will be implemented or from where the funding will come, he did note that his plans will be meticulously formulated in detail during the creation of the state’s budget proposal to the legislature.

Patrica Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. For more information please visit New York Schools
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