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Depends on What He Means

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Depends on What He Means

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the new school year “is going to be a year like no other year.”

Whew! Last year was a disaster. Walcott and his crew spent it trying to convince Queens residents that the city’s plan to close 24 public schools — seven in Queens — and reopen them as new schools with new names was a good thing.

The plan called for the city to replace more than half the teachers at those schools.

Residents didn’t buy it. They fought the chancellor who grew up in the Queens public school system. The teachers union fought the plan in court.

A state judge ruled that they were, in fact, the same schools and that the plan violated union contracts. The city wasted valuable resources promoting this plan and fighting for it in court. A year was wasted and the city Department of Education was a distraction.

If Walcott means 2012-13 won’t be like 2011-12, we’re all for it.

He emphasized his commitment to the mayor’s policy of providing parents with school choice, including charter and new schools. Good. Neither the mayor nor the chancellor listened to the people last year.

“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.

But only as long as he doesn’t base his decisions solely on standardized tests. Schools that serve single-parent and immigrant families with limited incomes face challenges. The department needs to work with administrators and teachers to understand and address these challenges. That cannot be done by looking at scores on a spreadsheet.

But what does “we have a responsibility to serve the students, not serve the adults in the school” mean? The schools are there to serve the community, children and parents. They must also serve teachers who often lack basic supplies. Walcott and his staff should seek to be their partners.

Let’s sum it up. Last year was a disaster for everyone involved in the education system. Unlike his boss, Walcott knows how important public education is. The challenge is enormous but there is time to make this the best year ever in public schools.

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