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[Susan notes: These letters were published

under the headline Grading the Schools

Chancellor. Read them and see which writers stand

out as toadies. Also ask yourself: Where are the

teacher voices?

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Re “Debate on New York Schools Pivots on One Man

at the Top” (“Controlling Interests” series,

front page, March 6):

I worked in the schools of New York City for 30

years as a teacher and principal. As a

consultant, I visited schools all over the

country and met with teachers, principals and

parents. I raised two children who attended New

York City public schools.

From those experiences, perhaps the most

important thing I’ve learned is this: In order to

create positive change in schools, the major

focus must be on teaching and learning — what

goes on in classrooms between teachers and

students, every day and every minute of those


Good schools pay attention to what teachers are

teaching and how they’re teaching it, how they

can refine and add to what they already know, how

the curriculums are created and how they make for

fruitful learning.

If Chancellor Joel I. Klein is really interested

in “changing longstanding practices,” as the

article notes, he might consider valuing the

actual work that school people do every day,

directly with children, work that does not appear

in headlines.

Blossom Gelernter

San Diego, March 7, 2009

The writer is the founding principal of Public

School 234 in New York City.


To the Editor:

While it may be true that Schools Chancellor Joel

I. Klein is not a career educator, it is just as

important to note who he is.

He is a visionary leader who has high

expectations for all of our students. The

policies and innovative programs that he has put

into effect demonstrate his tireless efforts to

continue to improve our schools.

He has done more than many career educators who

served before him.

David C. Banks

New York, March 6, 2009

The writer is founding principal of the Eagle

Academy for Young Men and president of the Eagle

Academy Foundation.


To the Editor:

Mayoral control was passed by the State

Legislature in 2002 as an experiment in school

system governance, with a sunset provision set to

take effect in June. Framing the question as one

of how Chancellor Joel I. Klein has “wielded the

unprecedented power” bestowed upon him by the law

doesn’t take into account the very question

implicit in the phrase.

“Unprecedented power” is hardly a technical

matter. As a lawyer who has served several

previous schools chancellors, I can assure you

that before the new law, chancellors had

extensive authority to set citywide policy and

educational standards, enforce regulations and

operate the school system. They did not hesitate

to use that authority.

What the 2002 law did was eliminate checks and

balances to the exercise of that power. For seven

years, the school system has been run as a

centralized top-down system without those


Mr. Klein did not have to answer to the city

board, which was rendered toothless by the law,

nor did he have to respond to parents, who lost

the machinery that allowed their concerns to be

heard at the local level and appealed to central


The seven-year experiment is at an end. The State

Legislature should act to bring those voices back

into the system.

Nancy M. Lederman

New York, March 6, 2009


To the Editor:

In his quest for equity, Chancellor Joel I. Klein

has ignored the pleas of parents like me and

reduced our children’s schools to drab

environments dominated by test preparation.

I guess he’s achieved his goal, though: all New

York City students are now entitled to the same

dull, substandard education.

Martha Foote

Brooklyn, March 7, 2009

To the Editor:

I am the founder and principal of the Bronx Lab

School, a small new high school on the Evander

Childs campus.

When I arrived here in 2004, I saw firsthand just

how bad things were before Joel I. Klein became

chancellor. The campus was not safe for students

or staff. Only a quarter of the high school class

of 2004 graduated.

Mr. Klein invited me to do something about this,

just as he asked other educators to start schools

across the city. He believed in my ability,

despite my age (30 at the time). He empowered me

by entrusting me with key decision-making on

budgeting and hiring.

Thanks to Mr. Klein, to a band of tireless,

talented teachers and to students who are as

hard-working as they are deserving, last June at

Bronx Lab 95 percent of the class of 2008

graduated, with more than 350 college acceptances

and $2.5 million in financial aid.

The Bronx Lab classes of 2008 and 2009 — a

majority of whom will be the first in their

families to attend college — thank Mr. Klein for

giving them a chance to succeed.

Marc Sternberg

Bronx, March 6, 2009


To the Editor:

I am struck by how much the issue of personality

diverts attention from the urgency of developing

and sustaining effective school reform.

For our children to succeed and for our city to

prosper, students must graduate with the

knowledge, skills and personal attributes needed

for college, participation in the 21st-century

economy and active citizenship.

Improving student achievement and raising the

graduation rate are the foundations of meeting

this challenge. Under Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s

leadership, these measures have risen. Graduation

rates have stagnated in most other urban


As the senior counselor to the chancellor for

education policy from 2002 through early 2007, I

spent hundreds of hours with Mr. Klein meeting

with community and parent groups as he worked to

create a system of good schools. I can attest to

his commitment in fact as well as words.

Michele Cahill

New York, March 6, 2009

The writer is vice president for national

programs and program director, urban education,

of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


To the Editor:

Whatever your views on Chancellor Joel I. Klein

and the changes taking root in the New York City

school system, there seems to be a significant

number of parents who feel disenfranchised from

the schools.

A full-functioning citywide board of education —

as envisioned by state law — would go a long way

toward increasing trust by giving parents and the

public more opportunity for involvement in

education decisions.

Honest, sincere community involvement is one of

the foundations on which public education is

built. When open communication and trust are

reciprocal, problems can be explored and solved


Timothy G. Kremer

Latham, N.Y., March 11, 2009

The writer is executive director of the New York

State School Boards Association.

multiple authors

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