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Chancellor meets with boro parents

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New Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was warm and positive as he answered questions from Queens parents Monday night on school overcrowding, academic standards and class sizes, Queens education representative Evita Belmonte said.

“He was very pleasant, easy to talk to and open to questions and suggestions,” Belmonte said of Klein, who capped off his first official day on the job at the Queens meeting at Borough Hall. About 10 parents were present, said Belmonte.

The press was barred from both the Queens meeting as well as Klein’s visit to a Brooklyn superintendent earlier in the day.

A spokesman for the new city Department of Education said Klein, 55, decided to have a low-key start to his tenure as city schools chancellor.

“What he wanted to do was meet with the front-line people in education — superintendents, principals, parents,” spokesman Tom Antenen said. “He wanted to meet with them face to face.”

Belmonte said Klein was realistic about the challenges of turning the city’s school system around.

“If a person is going to try their best, you can’t fault them for that,” Belmonte said. “You have to respect someone who’s not going to give you lip service.”

The Queens meeting covered what Belmonte described as “basic stuff,” education issues that are regular topics in the borough: school overcrowding, parental involvement in the schools and smaller class sizes, among other topics.

Klein, a graduate of William C. Bryant High School in Long Island City who is best known for his work on the Microsoft case as a lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division under the Clinton administration, is the first schools chancellor to report directly to the mayor.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his appointment of Klein, who has little education experience outside of a short teaching stint in a Queens classroom in the 1960s, at a July 29 news conference at Tweed Courthouse. The city Department of Education is expected to relocate from its Brooklyn headquarters to the Tweed Courthouse next month.

All the changes are the result of Bloomberg’s taking direct control of the city school system this summer.

In June the state Legislature hammered out a new governance structure for city schools, including eliminating the seven-member Board of Education as well as the community school boards, giving the mayor the power to appoint the chancellor and the chancellor the ability to pick school superintendents.

Instead of the Board of Ed, whose members earned salaries and had secretaries and small staffs to help them deal with a mountain of materials concerning the city public school system, a new advisory board was appointed.

The 13-member Panel for Educational Policy includes seven members appointed by the mayor and is headed by the chancellor as well as five members appointed by each of the borough presidents.

Belmonte, a Laurelton mother of two who is president of the Queens High School Confederation of Parent Associations as well as the head of the Parents Association at John Bowne High School where her daughter is a student.

wReach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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