Sept. 8 - 21, 2005
Back to School for
An Interview With Region 1 Leader Irma Zardoya
Text By JORDAN MOSS and HEATHER HADDON
Region 1 Superintendent Irma Zardoya has a full plate.
Two years ago she was plucked from her District 10 superintendent
post to head one of the city’s new regions, almost tripling the
number of schools under her charge.
Region 1 is comprised of District 10 and District 9 and includes
schools from Riverdale down to Highbridge. It also oversees the
area’s high schools which used to be under the purview of the old
Board of Education. The reorganization increased Zardoya’s portfolio
from 53 to 135 schools, accounting for upwards of 97,000 students.
Zardoya now spends less time ministering to local principals and
more time overseeing the new Local Instructional Superintendents,
who serve under her and work with roughly 10 schools each.
Despite the challenges, Region 1 saw some of the largest increases
in its fourth grade test scores last spring, with District 9 the
most improved area in the city. Zardoya was praised for her focus on
assessment, professional development, and leadership change.
The Norwood News sat down with Zardoya at 1 Fordham Plaza
last month in the office she now shares with her deputy, Ray
Rosemberg (because of the consolidation, the bigger job came with a
much smaller office), to talk about the state of area schools,
what’s in store for this year, and her long-term goals.
How is the situation with overcrowding?
Re-looking at how we use buildings has really helped build capacity.
We’re at a good place. We still have some schools that are
overcrowded, but we are seeing a decline in enrollment. The
elementary schools are getting some breathing space. Middle schools
are still overcrowded and high schools are very overcrowded.
If it were an independent district … Region 1 must be among the
biggest in the whole country.
Every regional superintendent is carrying quite a challenge on
their shoulders because of the vast number of schools they supervise
... You have to learn the names, school numbers, where they are
located. I still don’t have it all under my belt. What’s different
is that now I have Local Instructional Superintendents (LISs) that
work directly with principals, whereas I work mostly with the LISs.
My role is to strengthen their work and how they work with the
So that was a shift?
Before I was the direct person with the principals, I was in the
schools every day. Now it’s not every day. When I visit a school,
it’s with an LIS and to talk about the work the LIS is doing with
the principal. It’s a very different kind of relationship.
Do you think the restructuring is working well?
One of the positive aspects of restructuring has been the fact that
there is an LIS for every 10 to 12 schools, and in our network, some
have less schools. That really allows a superintendent to be working
very closely with principals to create opportunities for their
How do you pick what to do in an average day? There must be 10
emergencies every week?
I’m sort of working on different aspects of the organization [on a]
larger scale. Let’s say we have an emergency in a school. The
principal’s first contact is a LIS … I don’t need to go to the
school to do that. My job is more with the bigger plan for the
region — to anticipate proposals for new schools, planning for
those, looking at math and literacy initiatives … You have more
people now to delegate things to.
Region 1 has had some recent successes with test scores. What do
you think has been responsible for that?
Hard work! A number of things [like] the structure with the LISs
being able to work with a few principals. Principals walk each
other’s schools and learn from each other. There’s a lot of focus on
instruction now … The fact that once you get good professional
development, every year gets better and better … Parents are
becoming more involved. And some strategies we used, like looking at
What do you think of the criticisms about there being [too much]
Schools do their own test prep, but we make sure it’s not during our
literacy or math blocks. Teachers need to know what the standards
are, so when they are teaching, they incorporate certain strategies.
People can confuse that with test prep … but it’s built into study.
It’s not that they are just going to learn how to take a test.
Are there areas in the region that need more work?
Let’s agree that we’ve improved, but we are still one of the
lowest-performing regions in the city. We were actually the lowest
region in terms of attendance, and now are number six. We have a
major emphasis on attendance ... If your kids don’t come to school,
they’re not going to learn.
When you look at third grade, we found it’s one of our lowest
performing grades. We are looking at what we are doing in
kindergarten, first, and second ... and making sure they are really
The other one is middle schools. Middle school students still don’t
achieve, although the target for middle schools is much higher for
[passing the exams].
What do you think of the Community Education Councils? How useful
are they to you?
I don’t work directly with them. But we have shared with them our
comprehensive education plan for each district. Obviously, it’s
difficult because it’s a new role ... You see degrees of
Are you glad to have shed the school boards?
[laughs] Don’t ask me that question!
What is your take on ending social promotion?
[It] creates accountability for teachers and students. We also have
gotten additional resources for these grades [third, fifth, and
seventh] to help support the extra tutoring or intervention
programs. In addition, if a student is at Level 1 but has comparable
Level 2 work, they will get promoted. Then you have the summer
programs. What we’ve found is that, especially in the elementary
schools, that many of our students are able to move forward actually
with a Level 2 on the second [try with the] test.
[On where local students go to high schools]
One of my goals is to make all our small high schools attractive
enough to make our students want to attend them. Our big goal for
the region, and everyone in the region knows this, is to work with
students to attend college. If we are thinking that way, what we’re
saying is that we want to make sure from pre-K through 12th that our
students are staying with us. That’s why we want to strengthen our
Part of the challenge with that is the overcrowding of the high
schools. How do you combat that?
There is a commitment to build within our region. The issue for us
here, as it’s always been, is where? We are working on that. In the
meantime, we’ve been looking for alternative spaces within District
9. A building on Bathgate [Avenue] that will open up next year will
house three high schools. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve
managed to create more high school seats this year than last year.
What are your top goals?
In the next few years, the literacy and math agenda have to be
focused on in early grades and middle school. We’ll put in major
thinking about interventions and tracking student progress. The
other one is looking at the small schools, and strengthening the
high school curriculum.
Was it a big learning curve to learn about the high schools?
There still is a lot to learn. The biggest challenge is the quality
How would you advise parents who have concerns about their kids
or school to seek help? What’s the order of things they should do?
Parents should always work closely with teachers, then talk with the
assistant principal or the principal. If talking with the principal
doesn’t work out, then it’s the LIS. Remember you have parent
coordinators, so they facilitate this process. Parents can always
seek support from the LIS for their school. They are very
responsive. And obviously, I’m there. Parents have reached out to
me, but I make sure they’ve gone to the LIS or principal first.
Back to Schools
News | Opinion |
Schools | Features | Continuing Stories | Home
About Us | Past Issues