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Walcott discusses new year

Dennis Walcott (second from l.) stands with principals at a town hall meeting in Hollis. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

The 2012-13 academic year will be the final full year under the Bloomberg administration, and city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said last week the city Department of Education will continue to make the tough and often controversial decisions that have characterized the mayor’s reign as it faces unprecedented changes.

“This year is going to be a year like no other year,” the chancellor told the parents, teachers and principals who dropped in for his first town hall meeting of the year at the Susan B. Anthony school in Hollis.

Walcott, who attended District 29 schools in southeast Queens before graduating from Francis Lewis High School, said the implementation of new common core standards, new state tests and special education reform would all present challenges in the coming months.

He also emphasized a commitment to the mayor’s policy of providing parents with school choice — including both charter and new schools — and of taking drastic measures to reform failing schools.

“I am not moving away at all from what we have done in the past. As far as if there’s a school that’s not performing well ... we have a responsibility to serve the students, not serve the adults in the school,” he said.

“And I realize it’s not popular. I realize we could coast at the end of the year and a half that we’re here and not make those tough decisions and sometimes unpopular decisions, but I’m not going to do that as chancellor,” he said. “We’re gonna tackle tough decisions.”

Earlier this year, the state Education Department added southeast Queens’ August Martin High School, Jamaica HS, Excelsior Preparatory HS in Springfield Gardens, JHS 8 in South Jamaica and IS 192 in Hollis to the list of eight persistently poor-performing high schools Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to close last year.

The plan called for the city to replace more than half the teachers at each school and reopen them as “new” schools this year, but a state judge ruled that they were in fact the same schools and the plan violated union contracts.

With the new designations, the city has until 2015 to turn the schools around or they could face closure by the state, which could be more drastic than the proposal submitted by Bloomberg.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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