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Harvey Scribner Files, 1970-1973, Series 1101 


Introduction

The Harvey Scribner Files, 1970-1973, document the work of the first Chancellor of the newly decentralized New York City School System. They comprise Series 1101 of the Board of Education Record Group, and are part of the subgroup, Chancellors. They have been assigned accession number 05-045.

The records were transferred to the Municipal Archives by the Department of Education in 2004 from the former Board of Education headquarters at 110 Livingston Street.

The series consists of 9.5 cubic feet of records. They were organized and inventoried by the Municipal Archives in 2005 in a project supported by the New York State Archives under its Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund.

Biographical Note

Harvey Scribner was awarded a three year contract in 1970 by the New York City Board of Education, led by President Murry Bergtraum, to be the first Chancellor of the newly decentralized school system after an exhaustive search. Dr. Scribner took office Sept. 1, 1970 and remained chancellor until the end of his contract on June 30, 1973. The Board opted not to renew Scribner’s contract in 1973. Announcing his departure, Harvey Scribner stated that a “confidence gap” existed between the Board and himself. While the Board declined to state its reasons for denying an extension, Dr. Scribner had created rifts between himself, teachers and supervisors during his tenure.

During his term, Harvey Scribner upheld the court-mandated changes in the examination-based licensing system, gave high school students an advisory role in selecting principals and denied the principals the right to withhold diplomas based on “poor citizenship” or bad behavior. Principals maintained that Dr. Scribner had undermined their authority and encouraged student misconduct. These actions helped strain his relations with the staff.

Considered a leader of educational reform, Dr. Scribner continued his penchant for innovation by establishing a learning cooperative to generate education reforms in the decentralized local districts. The cooperative encouraged reform by identifying and disseminating information about successful school experiments. In the high schools, Scribner encouraged the development of a range of alternative programs, often in non-conventional settings, for youngsters who were dissatisfied with traditional school offerings.

Harvey Scribner began his career teaching in Maine elementary schools in 1934 and later became a teacher and principal in Massachusetts high schools. In 1946, Scribner graduated from Farmington State Teachers College and was named school superintendent in Hartland, Maine. He held similar positions in three other New England school districts before going to Teaneck, New Jersey. Scribner earned his Master’s degree at the University of Maine and his Doctorate in Education from Boston University in 1960.

Dr. Scribner became Superintendent of Schools in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1961, where he integrated the township’s schools despite some vigorous opposition. During his tenure, he created two advisory bodies to his office, the Teaneck Township Student Advisory Board and the Teacher-Administrator Conference Team (TACT). The student board promoted the exchange of ideas among the various schools of the community, provided a forum for greater understanding of controversial issues and aided in the coordination of Township activities as they related to students. The conference group encouraged a climate for educational freedom to bridge the gap between administrators and teachers for cooperative planning and to improve all media of communication.

Dr. Scribner was State Education Commissioner in Vermont from 1968 until 1970. While there, he advocated public involvement in educational affairs in his Design for Education. Scribner developed the Design in cooperation with lay and professional groups throughout the Vermont. Harvey Scribner also encouraged the creation of demonstration districts where experiments were tried and introduced a program called DUO (Do Unto Others), which allowed high school students in the state to do volunteer work in the community for academic credit.

Harvey Scribner became a professor at the University of Massachusetts’ School of Education upon his departure from New York City in 1973.

Scope and Content

The Harvey Scribner Files document the work of the first Chancellor of the New York City school system. While the records span the full term of the chancellor, 1970-1973, the small number of files and the gaps that exist suggests this is a remnant of a larger group of documents. Also, the files contained a small number of materials from the next chancellor’s records, perhaps indicating that these files were maintained in Irving Anker’s office for a time as reference material and later stored. The files are organized into five subseries, reflecting the original organization of the records.

The main group of records is subseries I, Subject Files. A gap exists in the alphabetical organization of the subseries, indicating where materials are lost. These files reflect the major issues and concerns of education in the period, 1970-1973, mainly desegregation, poverty and disadvantaged children. The subseries provides documentation on the efforts to desegregate the school system through surveys, curriculum changes, rezoning, busing and redistricting. The papers also contain evidence of many federal, state or local programs meant to alleviate the struggle of disadvantaged and poverty-stricken children, including the mentally and physically handicapped and high school dropouts, such as the federal Elementary & Secondary Education Act. The ESEA offered different types of aid for different levels of intervention.

The decentralization law intended to provide local control of the schools by parents by allowing a say over their children’s education. The subject files include instructions to the newly empowered Community School Districts on procedures, rules, regulations and the laws pertaining to their new responsibilities. The first subseries also contains personnel issues such as staffing and excessing that affected both the Board and the school districts.

The second subseries, Community School Districts, focuses on the specific issues relating to particular districts for the years 1970-1972. There are gaps in the district files, with the main portion being from districts 6 through 9. Several folders found in the subject files contained information from individual districts and were reunited with this subseries. While some of the issues detailed in these records pertain to all the districts, especially overcrowding, the local districts requested aid from the chancellor tailored to their needs. Discussions revolved around school annexation, new construction and school rezoning. Deliberations on staffing, including personnel assignment to the districts, new position license requests and staffing for specially funded programs also appear in the subseries. Some parents’ and parent association grievances against local school boards and clarification of filing procedures for grievances occur as well.

Subseries three concentrates mainly on the informal and public meetings held jointly by the Chancellor and the Board of Education. While the records cover the years 1971 to 1973, the informal meetings are only from 1972. The public hearings, public agenda meetings and public hearings allowed the public to speak on the many issues facing the chancellor and the Board of Education such as redistricting, budgeting, special programs and appeals.

The fourth subseries, Model Cities Program, focuses on the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare program to encourage change in socially blighted areas. The program began prior to 1970 so some earlier documents are contained within the files for continuity. Because New York City is so outsized, three separate areas were designated - Central Brooklyn, Harlem-East Harlem and South Bronx. The program, run through the Mayor’s Model Cities Office, provided funding for various Board of Education plans to help disadvantaged adults, children and young adults. Board of Education proposals included after-school tutoring, adult education, parent training, dropout prevention, and occupational training. The records also contain a set of files including HEW compliance forms and application forms as well as other federal funding sources like the Urban/Rural Development program and the ESEA titles.

The final subseries encompasses budgets for fiscal years 1970/1971 through 1973/1974. Every year the Chancellor and the Board negotiated with New York City and the Mayor’s Office for funding. The 1970s was a period of fiscal crisis. Budget deficits, need for funding increases, reductions in state aid and funding allocations were all part of the discussions with city officials. Oversized materials in this subseries have been removed from the regular files and placed together in an oversized box, labeled Box 20.
A set of Harvey Scribner’s Memos to the Board was found in the Isaiah Robinson Files, accession number 05-037. These documents, located in Robinson’s subseries II: Correspondence with Board and Officials, should be examined in conjunction with the Harvey Scribner Files.

Series Descriptions

Subseries I: Subject Files (1970-1973), 4.5 cubic feet

The subseries contains correspondence, memoranda, reports, contracts, audits and circulars. Arranged alphabetically, it spans the years 1970-1973. The papers reflect the Chancellor’s implementation of Board policy on decentralization of the New York City school system and the desegregation of the classroom. The files include instructions to the newly empowered Community School Districts on procedures, rules, regulations and the laws pertaining to their new responsibilities. The records also contain personnel issues such as staffing and excessing that affected both the Board and the School Districts. (Further communication with individual School Districts is separated into Subseries II.) The records show efforts to conduct ethnic surveys, create an ethnic studies curriculum, zoning changes, busing and redistricting. The papers contain evidence of many programs created or attempted for the disadvantaged, including the mentally and physically handicapped and high school dropouts, using funding from various sources such as the federal Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and state aid. The files also show a concern with school safety, school violence and the hiring of qualified security.

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Subseries II: Community School Districts (1970-1972), 1.25 cubic feet

The subseries contains correspondence, memoranda, minutes, proposals and telegrams. Arranged numerically by district, it spans the years 1970-1972. The files reveal the interactions between the Chancellor’s office and the school boards after decentralization of the school system. The records disclose discussions on staffing, including assignment of personnel by the central Board to districts instead of individual schools, requests for licenses for various positions in the schools and district offices, and the use of personnel in specially funded programs. The papers contain deliberations on solutions for classroom overcrowding including using school annexes, constructing new school buildings and rezoning. The records include parents’ and parent association grievances against the local school board and clarification of the filing procedures involved.

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Subseries III: Meetings (1971-1973), .5 cubic feet

The subseries contains memoranda, procedures, minutes and agendas. Arranged alphabetically, it spans the years 1971-1973. The files focus on the informal and public meetings held jointly by the Chancellor and the Board of Education. The records also include a small number of more specialized meetings such as the Finance Committee meeting. The papers contain meetings by specific dates, attendance lists, and agenda items. The files reveal the workings of the meetings in handling the issues facing the Board including redistricting, budgeting, special programs and appeals.

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Subseries IV: Model Cities Program (1970-1973), .75 cubic feet

The subseries contains correspondence, memoranda, proposals and reports. Arranged alphabetically, it spans the years 1970-1973. Reference materials from the 1960s are included. The files focus on the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare program to encourage change in socially blighted areas. Three areas were designated in New York City - Central Brooklyn; Harlem-East Harlem; South Bronx. The program, run through the Mayor’s Model Cities Office, provided funding for various Board of Education plans to help disadvantaged children and young adults. The records encompass many of the Boards proposals including after-school tutoring, adult education, parent training, dropout prevention, and occupational training. The papers also contain a set of HEW files including official compliance forms, application forms and federal programs such as Urban/Rural Development and ESEA.

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Subseries V: Budgets (1970-1973), 2.5 cubic feet

The subseries contains memoranda, correspondence, reports, audits, computer printouts and printed materials. Arranged chronologically by fiscal year, it spans the years 1970-1973. The files reflect the interactions between the school board and the city of New York over yearly funding. The papers encompass meetings with city officials, committee hearings and public hearings. The records also contain expense, capital and city budgets. The documents include discussions on budget deficits, requests for budget increases, state aid reductions and allocations of existing funds. Some budgetary materials are oversized, so have been removed from the regular files and placed together in Box 20.

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