Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Dennis Walcott's "Gentler" Chancellorship Doesn't Fool Anyone
“He is doing the job that Black was meant to serve, which is putting a kinder, gentler face on the administration’s point of view,” said David C. Bloomfield.
Oh, really David?
A kinder, gentler way of putting the most cruel, legally invalid and harmful education policies in the history of public education in America - once again looking at the general public as fooled by deception and evil intent. We in NYC have, I think, the largest number of parents and teachers in the country who now see the results of Mike Bloomberg's privitization of education.
And we are not fooled by Dennis Walcott. Not for one minute.
Oh, by the way, someone made an error in naming the seniority policy that Bloomberg wanted - "LIFO" - so that tenured teachers would be forced out rather than newbies. Didnt anyone do some thinking/research about this term? LIFO and FIFO ("first in, first out") refer to inventory left on a shelf that companies want moved for tax advantages.
No matter how nice you are, people are not products, Mr. Mayor. And I say this on the show "Lawline" that was taped last week and will be shown July 17, 2011. Check your channel guides. I was on a panel with lawyers Michael Mazzariello and Brian Glass.
June 28, 2011
For New Schools Chief, a Policy Statement in Tones of Harmony
By SHARON OTTERMAN, NY TIMES
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.
“That’s a debate that is taking place all over the country,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “Can you make real change without offending people? We are about to see.”
In an interview en route to the Francis Lewis graduation on Tuesday, Mr. Walcott said the shift to actually running the school system and its 143,000 workers after nearly a decade of overseeing it as deputy mayor felt profound, even though his new office is a three-minute walk from the old one and he has the same boss. He laughingly calls himself “the wandering chancellor,” and noted that the morning after Osama bin Laden was reported killed, he “popped by” three downtown schools just to get a feel for what was going on.
“The difference is that I am directly on the line; the issue is directly with me now,” he said. “If people are complaining about something, I can get a firsthand view rather than what people are telling me. That way, people can show me, rather than sugarcoating it.”
Following on the heels of a bitter relationship between the teachers’ union and Mr. Klein, Mr. Walcott is on the phone with Michael Mulgrew, the president of the union, “a minimum of once a day,” Mr. Mulgrew said, adding that the chancellor “was instrumental” in cementing the budget deal.
“Dennis is actually concerned about the schools and how the schools run,” he said.
Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor who spent significant time this winter trying to block Ms. Black from embarrassing their boss, said that Mr. Walcott still attended the daily morning meeting of top mayoral aides — the only person outside City Hall to do so — and that Mr. Bloomberg “is thrilled with his performance.”
Mr. Wolfson said that Mr. Walcott had been an important voice in the budget negotiations “in favor of doing everything we could do to save teachers,” and that his relationship with Mr. Mulgrew, strengthened several years ago when the two collaborated to start four high schools, “was helpful in encouraging the union to come to the table with concessions.”
“When I walk with him on the street,” Mr. Wolfson added, “he is stopped by an enormous number of people, more than anyone but the mayor, and all of it positive.”
But while Mr. Klein ran the schools under a powerful mayor at the height of his popularity, Mr. Walcott is working for a third-term lame duck with low poll numbers. There are continuing concerns about the role of test preparation in the curriculum, the failure of the enrollment system to match all kindergartners to a local school, overcrowding, swelling class sizes and ever-shrinking budgets forcing hard choices.
“In the last three years we have lost $750,000, and we have nothing left to give,” said Frank A. Cimino, the principal of Public School 193 in Midwood, Brooklyn. “And yet they keep saying do more with less. It’s a very demoralizing message.”
Given the climate, “they need to give him a certain amount of independence to move things in a way that allows him to develop some support among constituents,” Joseph P. Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College and a longtime expert on the schools, said of Mr. Walcott. “And I don’t mean a charm offensive. You really need to listen to people and take their concerns into account and work with them. And that’s his strength.”
Mr. Walcott has already made some small changes around the edges. He has delayed by several months an education vision statement each principal has to hand in. He postponed the start of school in September by one day to let schools prepare for the Common Core, a new curriculum being adopted by most states.
But there is still no deal with the union on how to conduct newly mandated teacher evaluations, holding up millions of dollars in federal grants for struggling schools, though Mr. Walcott is hopeful one will be reached. The union and the N.A.A.C.P. are suing to stop school closings and charter schools from moving into district school buildings. There is still a feeling among opponents, particularly parent groups, that though Mr. Walcott listens more, he might not be hearing.
Their fear is that his presence at school plays and parent meetings, along with his ability to speak without notes to fence-sitters and friends alike, is more style than substance and will not translate into a more responsive leader, particularly for those who have chafed at the Bloomberg administration’s top-down approach.
“He is doing the job that Black was meant to serve, which is putting a kinder, gentler face on the administration’s point of view,” said David C. Bloomfield, a professor of education at the College of Staten Island, who disagrees with much of the mayor’s program. “From the initial announcement until today, everything he has done has been choreographed, and unlike Cathie Black, it has gone according to plan.”
Jessica Bell and Jessica Campbell contributed reporting.