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New York City
September 2002

The Future of Education
By Jill Levy

Astonishingly, I am more optimistic today about the future of NYC public schools than during my past 43 years as an educator. I have seen it all: centralized and decentralized systems, management by committees and fiat, and every conceivable educational fad and fancy. No matter what was done, it seemed, nothing would turn our huge educational system around. Of course, we made strides here and there. We worked hard adjusting to new philosophies, new faces, new regulations, and new strategies.

But during the course of my career, I began to lose heart. Nothing, it seemed, worked in
the eyes of the media. Whether real or manufactured, we were chastised for our lack
of progress. Superintendents first, then Chancellors, came and went. Everyone was blamed: kids, their parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, chancellors, mayors, governors, the infamous Board of Education, the unions, and perpetually, the scarcity of critical resources.

Yet, at this moment I am feeling hopeful. An undefined positive energy has begun to emerge around our public schools. For the first time, in a long time, we have a Mayor who is proactively working for our schools. Mayor Bloomberg has demonstrated this by holding fast to his vision of a new governance structure and accountability. It is surprising that a political neophyte has achieved what skilled politicians before him were unable to do–accept personal responsibility for our city’s schools. His tenacious commitment to being accountable for educating our children is contagious.

The new governance structure, one that I did not advocate, presents a challenge to all of us because it is not just tweaking around the edges of reform. It is a system solidly designed to accomplish its goals. It is almost irresistible in its simplicity. A Mayor responsible for educational achievement, a Chancellor accountable to the Mayor for results and an educational panel, serving at the pleasure of the Mayor, designed to give advice to the Chancellor. Too few to blame now!

The Mayor’s surprising selection of seven people from a variety of intelligent and experienced backgrounds to the new Educational Policy Panel signaled that “same old” was not in the cards. The shock of hearing that top educational management would move out of 110 Livingston Street and his daring selection of Joel Klein for the Chancellor’s position flew in the face of the educational establishment.

As I watched and listened in the Tweed Courthouse to the announcement of Klein’s appointment, I was moved by the intensity of purpose from both men and the clarity with which they spoke about their mutual commitment. The absence of platitudes, pomposity and pandering to the press or public spoke to me in a language I realized I longed to hear. I was not disturbed by the fact the Joel Klein is not a professional educator

Neither is he someone who dabbles in educational policy and like so many before him, actually believes that he has all the answers. My brief conversation with the new Chancellor the following morning affirmed my initial feelings.

Coupled with a sense of urgency that this may be our last chance to prove that NYC public schools can provide the quality of education for which it was once renowned is the persistent focus of the Mayor and his team. Despite the fact that principals and other administrators who lead schools still do not have a contract, that assistant principals make less than teachers they supervise, and the recent teacher contract demands more of their time and resources. Not withstanding the potentially disastrous state of our fiscal situation in the city and its effect on schools, I believe that the future holds promise.

For those of us who believe strongly in the value of public education, the path is clear. There is unity, a common purpose, that energizes the atmosphere. There are those who are still asking, “What is the Mayor’s vision for our public schools? When will he articulate it?” He certainly hasn’t shared it with me, but if I were to guess, it would be very simply stated, “NYC will have the best public education system in the nation.”#

Jill Levy is the President of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA).


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