Klein Promises to Listen to Public as He Implements Systemic Change
York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has adopted a novel educational
perspective as the driving force behind his “Children First” program.
“Instead of the system working from the top down, as it has in
the past, this will be a truly grassroots effort that seeks real
input from–and requires the taking of real responsibility on the
part of–parents, students, and teachers,” he said.
In order to receive this input, the Chancellor announced an ambitious
listening tour initiative at a public meeting of the Panel for
Educational Policy at Brooklyn’s Edward R. Morrow High School.
Within the next three and a half months, he intends to meet with
5,000-plus parents, teachers, students, and business and community
The meetings will range from coffee circles of 2-40 parents held
at the Tweed Courthouse to public meetings for more than 300 participants
in school auditoriums. “This is our shot for real change,” Klein
told the audience. “I beg you to take this seriously. I implore
The Chancellor still needs to convince the public both of the
seriousness of his purpose and the efficiency of his staff to
implement policy. As one parent, Althea Thomas asked, “Will our
voices make a real difference–or are we just window-dressing?,”
echoing the mood of many at the meeting. Recalling last year’s
parent-opinion study–requested by then-chancellor Harold Levy
at the cost of $605,000–panel member Donald Weber begged Klein
to act swiftly. “We’ve had 12 Chancellors in 18 years,” he stated.
central focus of this administration shall be to enact systemic,
serious change,” replied Klein. “It will involve a realignment
of functions. The focus shall be not on a school system, it will
be on schools. We’ll aggressively seek the perspective of parents,
students, and teachers. The number one key is parent and community
involvement.” Senior staff member Michelle Cahill gave a detailed
description of the various plans for the engagement of parents
and the community over the next several months.
Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Diana Lam spoke about
literacy, which “profoundly affects every aspect of our lives,
from employment to crime to our social circle.” Lam, acclaimed
by the Chancellor as the “number one literacy expert in the United
States” said. “Reading and writing well ensures success in all
subjects. Among other things, we will implement a new type of
assessment in literacy, a less formal way of testing that shall
be a more continuous, immediate–and therefore better–evaluation
of the student. We’ll refocus our resources on instructional leadership
where the most important factor shall be the interaction between
student and teacher. And, in addition, we shall create a new model
for professional development as well.”
This meeting was the first for the two newest members of the panel.
In his introduction, Chancellor Klein called Caroline Kennedy–the
Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships–a “jewel and
a tremendous asset.”
first aspired to public service after I heard Caroline’s father
speak as a presidential candidate in 1960,” Klein said. “So I
can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about having a chance
to work with her.”
Marcie Harris, the first African-American woman to become a Major
General in the U.S. Army, “should bring a great amount of knowledge
and organizational experience to our effort,” Klein added. “I
am thrilled to have her skills on the side of public education
and working with her for the important changes we are attempting
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