View Full Version : All NYC New York Schools Chief Makes Small Changes but Stays the Course

06-29-2011, 07:52 AM
From N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/29/nyregion/for-new-york-schools-chief-a-policy-statement-in-tones-of-harmony.html) by Sharon Otterman:

Dennis M. Walcott, New York City’s schools chancellor, hates prepared texts for speeches and wears a pedometer to count his daily steps. So it stands to reason that during a 14-stop marathon of graduations over the past week, he frequently abandoned his seat and improvised.

As hundreds of seniors from his alma mater, Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, crossed a stage at Hofstra University to collect diplomas on Tuesday morning, Mr. Walcott stood up, found a roll of brown tape and knelt to secure a wire that had come loose in their path. At a ceremony for disabled students last Tuesday, he leapt off the stage to hand out awards. And at the cavernous New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Queens on Sunday, he nodded and swayed to the choir and the clashing of tambourines.

“A lot of you came up to me and said, ‘My prayers are with you,’ ” he said, warming up into a preacher’s cadence. “And you shook your head this way,” he said (side to side as if in despair), “instead of this way” (nodding enthusiastically).

“But you can shake your head this way,” he continued, responding to the building laughter, “because I love this job.”

Three months after his surprise ascension to head the nation’s largest school system amid its worst leadership crisis in recent memory, Mr. Walcott, 59, has worked hard to improve the administration’s relationships with key constituencies through frequent, sometimes unannounced, school visits and constant contact with the teachers’ union. But even after a tumultuous year in which parents, educators and advocates were shocked by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s appointment of a publishing executive with no education experience — and her subsequent implosion and ouster — Mr. Walcott still sees his role as building support for, and tweaking — not changing — policies.

His biggest achievement, he said in an interview Tuesday, was helping to avert teacher layoffs in a deal with the United Federation of Teachers. The deal came Friday after he personally went to union headquarters, the city school system’s equivalent of the Hatfields’ visiting the McCoys.

But principals are still smarting from the third year in a row of significant budget cuts. Heated opposition continues over the rapid expansion of charter schools, many of them fighting for space with traditional schools — the subject of a divisive lawsuit. And recent data from the state show fewer than a quarter of the city’s graduates are ready for college work.

Yet, after eight years of Joel I. Klein, who as schools chancellor had a confrontational style and favored rapid, radical change, and four months of Cathleen P. Black, the publisher whose learning curve and frequent gaffes made her untenable, many see Mr. Walcott’s style of smoothing feathers, nurturing relationships and promoting stability as its own kind of policy statement.

A month after a Quinnipiac poll found the public’s opinion of the mayor’s handling of education profoundly negative, the warm applause that Mr. Walcott, who attended city schools and sent his children to them, received at graduation ceremonies in all five boroughs signaled that a more approachable messenger might be nearly as important as the content of the message. The question, observers said, is whether he will be satisfied in the coming years with being a competent caretaker or use the growing good will to further a controversial agenda of school closings and high-stakes standardized testing.

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