Klein touts leadership plan for principals at boro meet

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“Too often the...

By Alexander Dworkowitz

The city will improve education in Queens by concentrating on leadership and replacing principals at many poorly performing schools in the borough, Chancellor Joel Klein told a packed audience at Forest Hills High School Saturday morning.

“Too often the difference is fundamentally a question of leadership,” said Klein, who grew up in Woodside.

Klein came to Forest Hills as part of the city’s “Children First” campaign. Klein has held forums around the city to obtain parental input into changing the school system. Saturday marked the first such forum in Queens.

The chancellor began his speech by recalling playing basketball at Forest Hills High School for Bryant High School.

Klein said he considered taking the job of chancellor after Mayor Michael Bloomberg took more control of the school system and started targeting the educational bureaucracy.

“He did something which I think is quite remarkable...” Klein said. “Frankly, politics and that whole set of issues would often grind the process to a halt.”

Klein told the estimated 850 attendees that although the city has some of the best public schools in the country, many schools lack leadership from effective principals. He said such principals often ignored parents and did not inspire students.

At the beginning of the month, Klein announced that he planned to remove 50 principals at the end of the school year and develop a training program for the remaining school heads.

The training program began to take shape Monday when Klein announced some of the nation’s premier business leaders would head a leadership academy for the school system’s 1,200 principals. John Welch, former chief executive officer of General Electric, Richard Parsons, CEO of AOL Time Warner, and Bob Knowling, who has run leadership academies at Ameritech and US West as chairman of Triangle2 Partners, are among the business leaders to operate the academy.

In his Saturday talk, Klein said that over the next several years “at least half our principals will turn over.”

“You should understand that change is difficult,” Klein said. “We are going to have to make some major changes.”

In addition to targeting principals, Klein said the Department of Education had taken other important initiatives under his watch. He said he and Bloomberg eliminated 25 percent of the jobs at the School Construction Authority in an attempt to streamline the bureaucracy and reduce the cost of building schools at $400 a square foot, a price double almost any other city in the country.

Klein also spoke of his safe-school’s initiative, which gives principals more authority to discipline student trouble-makers.

“We believe in a second chance approach,” Klein said. “But that change has got to take place in an environment in which they don’t disrupt others.”

The Department of Education will undertake many more new initiatives, and forums will continue to be held to help shape the new plans, Klein said.

After his speech, the parents who attended the forum were divided into 30 groups, in which discussions were held in English, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Urdu, Bengali and Haitian. Department of Education’s staffers took notes on the discussions, and those notes were to brought up in preliminary meetings on change at the Department of Education.

“What we want to get from you is your input,” said Evita Belmonte, the Queens representative to the Department of Education.

The parents who attended the meeting were eager to tell Klein and his staff of their own feelings about the school system.

Mirlinda Durkovic, whose daughter Amina attends kindergarten at PS 130 in Auburndale, approached Klein to tell him she thought New York’s schools should take a lesson from District 203 in Naperville, Ill., an area known for high parental involvement.

“We need to get everyone involved,” Durkovic said.

Joseph McCabe, who lives in Little Neck, wanted to make sure the magnet program which his daughter attends at PS 188 in Hollis Hills would not be eliminated.

“I just wanted to hear what they have to say about it,” McCabe said. “I just want to make sure it stays in the budget.”

Shirley Pineiro, whose child attends MS 173 in Floral Park, told Klein she hoped the comments of parents were taken seriously.

“I think that it’s very important that everyone feels that they have a voice and it counts,” she said.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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