The Civic Scene: New schools chancellor reignites hope in Queens

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Well, it is now a done deed - we have another new head of the New York City school system. There is now another chancellor who will head the New York City Department of Education. We have had eight different school heads in the past 24 years.

Rudy Crew came on board in October 1995 and left in October 1995, while Harold Levy joined the system in January 2000. I remember the high hopes which existed when newspaper stories told of their backgrounds. They are not considered successes by some people today, yet they have many successes they can be proud of.

One must think of the state of the schools today. While some harp on the failures, I like to write of the successes. The thousands of high school students who graduated last June. The awards they received in their large and small high schools. The colleges which accepted them and often gave them scholarships. The many community activities they took part in when in high school and the good they did in the school as well as outside community.

Day after day one can read of the good things students are doing. Yes, there are failures and problems but overall they outweigh the failures.

What hopes do people have for the schools under Chancellor Joel Klein? Do they expect him to find the money needed to provide enough up-to-date textbooks, enough drawing paper, shades for the classrooms, electric wiring to power the modem computers needed, desks for each student, air conditioning for those 90 degree days, workbooks the students can actually write in, staple machines for the teachers, copy machines which are operational, available to the staff and with enough paper, nicely painted classrooms which don’t look drab, modem science laboratories so students can do actual experiments to prepare them for the required state tests they must pass to graduate, review books which give the students a good summary for those required state tests plus the many other things which students need to be able to learn.

Will the chancellor be able to make the licensing system more efficient and humane, provide mentors for new teachers from the first day of class not after the fifth week, help the drug and alcohol- addicted students, help those who are living in different shelters each night, stop the class bully from frightening decent students, help the child in a dysfunctional family, keep the disruptive child who is also often a slow learner from disrupting a class, get rid of the bilingual programs, help foreign-born children learn English in a year or two, make parents get involved in their children’s learning by coming to school for conferences and making them go to school daily, respect the teacher, do homework and study for tests and come for tutoring if necessary?

Chancellor Klein is making the right moves during his first few days in office. He visited Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and also met with Queens parent activists to discuss their concerns. He addressed about half of the 8,000 new teachers at a meeting in the Theatre at Madison Square Garden along with UFT President Randi Weingarten. He has also received good press that he attended public schools in New York City and graduated from William Cullen Bryant HS and then taught for a short time before moving on to law school at Columbia University.

Headlines about his graduation from Bryant HS have been a good positive result of his appointment. An interesting result of his days at Bryant has been a phone call from the public relations person at the UFT asking if I was the Mr. Harris who had taught Klein science at Bryant H. S. No, I had arrived at Bryant a few years after Klein graduated and taught social studies for about 20 years there.

I remember other chancellors speaking to the Delegate Assembly of the UFT. I believe the UFT president had presented Rudy Crew, if it was Crew, with a bucket of supplies because at that time things were just not available at the Board of Education headquarters.

Chancellor Levy does leave a positive legacy. I remember articles on the artists he brought to meetings with his superintendents and photos of them playing musical instruments as a way of building camaraderie and understanding. All of the teachers in the system are or will be certified by June 2003. It was the big pay raise which attracted all these qualified teachers, but it occurred during Levy’s watch.

About 30 percent of the children who enter the New York City schools fail to graduate. The students drop out in the 10th or 11th grade when they realize they will not just be passed along in high school and must pass every class. Now they must also pass special tests, which even if made easier, are still a content test. Some parents, who are invisible illegal aliens, keep these older children home to babysit or work in a family business.

Our new chancellor will have to meet the needs of the students who have all the problems I mentioned above. While some of our new foreign students come from middle-class backgrounds, many come from primitive rural or urban areas far removed from our modern technological society. It will take more than a new energetic teacher and more supplies to help them and their families succeed in New York City.


The complex problems of New York City were apparent during the Little League World Series. The Harlem team was almost denied the change to take part in the series because some students lived with relatives in other parts of the city and in homeless shelters. Such are the problems faced by families, such are the problems faced by the schools when dealing with these children and their families.

The mayor has announced that the NYPD will crack down on career criminals and quality-of-life crimes. I thought they have been doing this for years, which is why crime is down.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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