Joel Klein, a product of local schools in Brooklyn and Queens and an alumnus of Long Island City's own William Cullen Bryant H.S., has been named Schools Chancellor by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. We wish him luck.
Klein comes to the Chancellorship with a background that includes a stint teaching sixth-grade math in a Long island City school in 1969. His other foray into education came as an adjunct professor for the Georgetown University school of law. Unlike most adjunct professors (not a tenured member of the academic staff) Klein eschewed holding evening seminars on esoteric subjects for students in their last year of law school. Instead, he taught full-time during the day, instructing first-year students on civil procedure. One of his students, now chairman of the Federal Communications Commission noted that Klein "had a mastery of complex subjects and the ability to make them simple," a skill he will find invaluable in dealing with the Hydra-headed monster known as the New York City school system.
Klein's legal career has also fostered some abilities he will use extensively in his new position. He headed the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, where he successfully prosecuted more than a dozen food companies accused of rigging contract bids on $210 million worth of fresh produce and frozen food sold to the New York City board of education and won--all the companies involved were convicted or pleaded guilty.
His most famous cases were his prosecutions of Microsoft, WorldCom/Sprint Visa/MasterCard, American Airlines and General Electric. Klein would appear to be well equipped to take on the school system, a government-regulated monopoly which controls almost every detail of the educational process, from class size to bus contracts. He must also deal with the 100,000-member United Federation of Teachers, the union which has 80,000 teachers in the public schools of New York City and is said to exert even greater control over the schools than the board of education.
The combination of mayoral control over the schools and a chancellor with a background of successfully managing a large and diversified staff would appear to provide some opportunities for improvements in the schools of this city. Klein has already called for emphasis on the basics and has said that his goal is to provide a first-rate education for all the schoolchildren of New York City.
"We're going to give him a chance," Randi Weingarten, UFT president, said after a brief conversation with the incoming Chancellor last week. That's all Joel Klein asks of the city of New York. We don't think it's too much.