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Boro civics grill Walcott on city’s ed reform plans

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Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott faced a barrage of questions from 50 borough civic leaders, parents and teachers Monday night as he tried to explain the restructuring of the city’s school system expected to take effect in September.

From the beginning of the Queens Civic Congress’ monthly meeting at the Kew Gardens Community Center, Walcott was on the defensive trying to respond to civic leaders’ concerns that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are wrong in trying to implement a “one-size-fits-all” educational system.

Lourdes Hartrick, president of the Bellerose Commonwealth Civic Association and parent of a 7-year-old at PS 133, questioned Walcott on the merits of the list of 200 “top schools” that supposedly identified the best schools in the city. She also asked him how long it will take to evaluate the new system’s success.

“Obviously, we want results as soon as possible,” Walcott said. “I believe by the second year we will be able to see an increase (in state test scores).”

Walcott cited, however, research that has shown most significant changes in large school systems take five years to show substantial results.

Bloomberg and Klein released their reorganization framework for the city Department of Education in January that includes the introduction of 10 new “super” zones to manage groupings of the 32 separate school districts. Each regional superintendent will have several local superintendents below him or her who will be responsible for 10 to 12 individual schools.

Walcott said the new organizational system will provide a clean line of accountability and provide for the effective implementation of a citywide initiatives like the universal English and math curriculum.

Klein was supposed to attend the meeting but had to cancel his appearance because of scheduling conflicts, Walcott said.

Several questioners at the meeting were representing District 26, the city’s top-performing district that under the reorganization plan will be grouped with Districts 25, 28 and 29. They said the introduction of new parent coordinators, whose job will be to enhance parents’ engagement, might actually hinder rather than help their schools.

Sam Greenberg, a member of the Douglaston Civic Association, said schools in his district do not need additional resources that the new centralized system could provide, such as the parent coordinators. He asked Walcott about the flexibility individual schools will have in working with the new school officials that will also include literacy and math coaches.

“We have needs in our schools that are not fully met by the parent coordinators,” he said. “Our district structure works real well.”

Walcott told the audience that the system would adapt and adjust to suit the needs of individual schools once it is implemented in September. He said the regional superintendents will play a key role in looking at the schools for which they are responsible and make the appropriate decisions with all school officials.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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