BY SHAMS TAREK
New Schools Chancellor Joel Klein spent part of his first day on the job with a handful of Queens parents at Borough Hall this week.
Klein, a one-time Queens resident and former Justice Department prosecutor hand-picked by Mayor Mike Bloomberg to lead New York City schools, met with parents at Borough Hall on Aug. 20 after a long first day at work and a tough job ahead of him.
Inside Borough Hall, Klein met with Evita Belmonte, the Laurelton parent/activist selected to represent Queens under the newly restructured City Department of Education, and approximately 12 local parents.
Klein listened intently during the hour-long meeting as parents talked about a range of topics including establishing a permanent superintendent for a troubled Community School Board 29 in southeast Queens.
“It was a very candid discussion,” Klein said while rushing to his car after the meeting. “We talked about a whole range of issues.”
Queens Parents Are Positive
“It was a very good meeting,” Robin Brown, a District 29 parent and chair of Klein’s parent advisory council said. “It was a give and take between the chancellor and the parents. You name the issue, we talked about it.”
“Many issues were discussed with our new chancellor,” Delois Blakely, a District 29 parent, said. “It was a very positive meeting. He’s very open; we’re pleased he met with parents on his first day.”
Meeting The Borough President
Borough President Helen Marshall was outside Borough Hall on Monday to greet Klein before his meeting, but did not attend the meeting that followed.
Marshall told reporters outside Borough Hall that she would not take part in the meeting to allow Klein and parents to be able to speak frankly.
“I’m delighted at the fact that he came to speak to parents on the first day,” Marshall said.
The Borough President also noted that Klein’s management experience left her feeling confident that he will do a good job.
“I understand he’s very good in management,” she said. “The Board of Education is a very big system. He has a very big job to do.”
Marshall also had some words of advice for Klein, citing overcrowding and budget restraints as the main problems for Queens’ schools.
“In Queens, the major issue is overcrowding of schools,” Marshall explained. “He’s working with a limited budget and finding resources in a limited budget is not easy.”
According to Marshall, the recent influx of new teachers will also present the need for many more assistant principals to help manage faculty and students.
“He’s going to have to inspire principals,” she said.
A Quiet First Day On The Job
Klein started his first day at work with an 8:30 a.m. meeting with Marcia Lyles, superintendent of Brooklyn’s Community School Board 16, a long-struggling Bedford-Stuyvesant district that has had a steep rise in test scores last year.
Klein later visited parents, students and faculty at a new school in the Brooklyn district, the Frederick Douglass Academy, and then returned to 110 Livingston Street to meet members of the school system, now officially called the Department of Education.
However, City school officials were tight lipped about what Klein did before and after his visit to Queens.
According to published reports, even questions about what the new schools chancellor had for lunch on his first day went unanswered.
Who Is Joel Klein?
Klein, the first schools chancellor to report directly to the mayor, is a former Queens resident and one time local sixth grade teacher who also has an extensive background in international business and law.
“As a product of New York City’s public schools, I owe my teachers and this City’s schools more than I can ever repay . . . I acknowledge that debt and pledge to do all that I can to give each child in New York City a first-rate education and the keys to unlock what this remarkable city has to offer,” Klein said upon the announcement of his appointment as chancellor.
Klein was born in the Bronx in 1946, grew up in Brooklyn and later moved to the Woodside Houses public housing project.
While living in Queens, Klein attended William Cullen Bryant High School in Long Island City.
Klein went on to attend Columbia University and Harvard Law School and has spent a majority of the last 30 years building a name by handling high profile cases including the U.S. Justice Department’s Anti-trust lawsuit against Microsoft.
Taking Care Of Business
Even though Klein’s toughest critics have pointed out that he has little experience in academic administration, some feel that he’s the right guy to help the City’s public schools get down to business.
“Although Mr. Klein does not have an extensive educational background, he has great managerial skills in government and business that serve him well.” Marshall said soon after his appointment.
New Role, New Name
Klein will be heading up the agency that was once known as the New York City Board of Education – one with a new name and a different role.
The city agency will now be referred to as the The New York City Department Of Education, according to city officials.
The changes follow the June 2002 passage of a law that calls for the comprehensive reform of the governance of the city’s public schools.
The “reform of school governance will fundamentally change the way in which we manage the education of our children,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “We will no longer have to tolerate an incapable bureaucracy which does not respond to the needs of the students. We are replacing it with a governance structure that will give us the opportunity to fix our broken schools, provide our children with the tools they need to succeed in society and finally give parents the ability to voice their opinions and concerns.”
The New ABC’s Of School Governance
According to the mayor’s office, the new school governance law includes the following points:
• The board will consist of 13 members and will have the ability to set Citywide educational policy;
• The Mayor will appoint 8 members of the board, including the Chancellor, each of whom will serve at the pleasure of the Mayor;
• The Chancellor will report directly to the Mayor;
• The Chancellor will select the superintendents of the local school districts;
• The Borough Presidents will each appoint one member of the board, each of whom must be a parent of a child attending a New York City public school;
• The community school boards will be eliminated as of June 30, 2003;
• The Mayor will appoint two members to serve alongside the Chair (the Chancellor) of the Board of Trustees of the School Construction Authority;
• The temporary president of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly will each appoint 10 members to a task force on community school district governance reform;
• The City will be required to maintain a level of appropriation for the schools each year, beginning in Fiscal Year 2004, determined by a formula based on the appropriation in the previous fiscal year;
• The U.S. Department of Justice will review the new system to ensure compliance with Section V of the Voting Rights Act.