Klein: ‘Make A Difference In NYC Public Education’
Back at P.S. 151 in Woodside where he attended as a child, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein recalled, “I was on this [auditorium] stage when I was in the fourth grade, playing the clarinet.” Smiling, Klein said, “I played a solo and the teacher told me that would be my last performance.”
At P.S. 151 to receive a Lifetime Achievement Certificate from the District 30 Community Education Council (CEC) at its May meeting, Klein returned to the neighborhood from which he went on to a very successful career as a lawyer and Chancellor of the New York City school system, with its 1.1 million students. “It was over 50 years ago that my family moved to the Woodside Houses from Brooklyn,” he said. Klein remembered his father, a high school drop-out, telling him if he stayed in school he could be anything he wanted to. “I really can’t say how important education is to me,” said Klein.
As Chancellor, Klein said he wants to make a difference in the education of the city’s children. “I don’t think there is any greater challenge,” he said.
“For too long, too many of them have not received the education they deserve,” Klein said, reciting statistics showing that only one of every two city students graduates from high school. “I know we can do better,” he said.
Klein admitted it is a very tough road ahead. “Not everythng is perfect,” he said. Looking at the “Many Hands of the World” project set around the backdrop of the stage and on the auditorium walls to celebrate P.S. 151’s upcoming Multiculural Festival on May 20, Kelin noted that 170 different languages are spoken by the children attending public schools. “We have a miniature United Nations on stage tonight,” he said referring to a student chorus. “That is our strength. No city is more open than New York City.”
Klein answered questions from students, parents and community council members. Concerns centered on the resolution of the Campaign For Fiscal Equity court case regarding state financing of city schools, standardized testing, a uniform curriculum, social promotion and a contract for teachers.
Regarding the teacher contract situation, which is now two years old and running, Klein answered, “That’s a tough subject.”
“I know you want the contract and I would like to get [teachers] a contract,” he said, pointing to matters of money and what he described as “some reasonable contract reform”. However, Klein said, “I want to be clear about the enormous respect and regard I have for our teachers. We need to get this [contract] resolved and I look forward to that as much as anybody.”
In response to a question about curriculum changes and input from teachers, Klein said, “You’ve got to listen, you’ve got to hear. It’s clear we’ve got to do a better job listening.”
In June 2002, Governor George Pataki signed into law a bill that gave control of the public schools to the mayor of New York City for the first time. At that time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was six months into his first term, said, “I want to be held accountable for the results (in education) and I will be,” according to an April 18, 2005 New York Times report.
The Times article also said that since Bloomberg has taken control, many parents find the changes that have been made to be confusing, and the parent community education councils that replaced local school boards to be powerless.
In a New York Times poll conducted between February 4 and 13 this year, that was reported in the April 18 Times , one-third of registered voters said that the quality of public education had gotten worse since Bloomberg took office. Another 34 percent said the quality of education had not changed and 23 percent said schools had gotten better.
“My vision is each and every school has got to be a school that I would send my own children to. So we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Klein concluded.