Levy Takes The Helm
By TAMARA HARTMAN & JOSH KAUFMAN
Having won the Mayors favor,
outlasting the competition, and with the final vote scheduled for that afternoon, Harold
Levy still made time to pick up his office phone, keep his sights on the big education
picture, and personally get business done.
Queens Board of Education member Terri
Thomson (right) stood by Levy as the swing vote to make him interim Chancellor and called
his unanimous selection for the permanent slot "fabulous".
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
"Congratulations," the Tribune
said over the wire, and the man who was about to take on the system, the politics and the
budget battles of educating 1.1 million children responded, "Thank you, I
Harold Levy left his "interim"
status this week and became the permanent choice for Board of Education Chancellor of the
City of New York. "People dont do things like this for rational reasons,"
he explained, "They do it for a sense of purpose, for their self-worth, to help the
future, and I guess as part of their spirituality."
And he added to his list of motivations,
"Im not adequately selfish." He described the job as "larger than the
comfort or self-interest of one person . . . it is such an extraordinary opportunity to be
in a position to effect the most important social issue of the day. "
And as Levys thoughts drifted from
the Boards political business to a phone call from Borough President Claire Shulman
to discuss a proposed school site in Maspeth, his number one priority for the
chancellors office was just two words: "teacher quality."
In January of 2000, Queens
Board of Education Member Terri Thomson stood as the swing vote that swayed against the
Mayors interim chancellor choice and put Levy into the slot. However, what made
headlines then and angered the Mayor faded this week into Mayoral support. Giuliani was
"very cordial, very nice" to Levy when they spoke last, Levy said, and Thomson
added that she knew it would turn out well all along.
dont do things
like this for rational reasons,"
he explained, "They do it for
a sense of purpose, for their self-worth, to help the future,
and I guess as part of
New York City
"I always felt that once Harold
and the Mayor began communicating, they
would have a great synergy. They have more in common philosophically and stylistically
than they would have
thought. They are both strong managers and they both have can do attitudes . .
. Harold put a priority on building a relationship with the Mayor."
Thomson added that Levys selection as
the new Schools Chancellor is a "fabulous thing."
"From the very beginning we said that
what the Board really needs is a strong manager, a non-traditional person. It is very
important that [Levy] thinks like a business person and it shows because of his management
skills, his decision making, his personal passion and his will [to make things better]. He
has shown that we can, and will, move mountains on behalf of our 1.1. million school
CHANCELLOR ON QUEENS
New School Site In
Maspeth Foremost in the Chancellors thoughts about Queens education as he
went into his day was a city council hearing held yesterday to discuss the fate of what
was once an Edwards on Grand Avenue in Maspeth and what may become a school or a Staples.
It was business as usual for
Harold Levy (right) at Board of Education headquarters on May 17, even though the
chancellor vote would be held that night.
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
He praised Borough President Claire
Shulman for her willingness to use eminent domain to insure buildings for schools, adding
"I find it very hard to believe there is a community uproar for a Staples. They can
call Staples 1-800 number if they really need stationery. I happen to know that they
respond over night." He added his sadness at seeing the issue "set neighbor
against neighbor" and his confidence that a 900-seat school would be built on the
site in the citys most overcrowded district. And for those worried about the
valuable neighborhood property, he added "in a few years after it is there, it will
even increase their property values."
School Board 29 Levy
explained simply that he suspended this south Queens board because "they repeatedly
violated Chancellor Crew, dismissed the incumbent he put in place, then replaced that
person with one of their own choosing. I am disappointed with the performance level of
that district and now they have a first rate administrator" appointed by Levy. That
administrator, Michael Johnson, "is one of the best talents Ive ever seen"
Levy said, adding that he is getting a flood of letters from parents happy with the
chances they are seeing.
Overcrowding Levy described
the problem in Queens as "extreme" and said the only solution was in finding
more money for renovation and construction. "It is caused by a lack of adequate
facilities," he said simply. The five year capital budget asked for $11 billion to
work on the problem, they were granted $7 billion when what they could use is "a
multiple of that," he said, but he indicated that he was not going to give up hope or
the fight for more space and more money.
Shulman echoed Levys
concerns over capital funds, adding that "Crews capital budget" included
"wish money" which he never actually expected to see. However, Shulman said she
has the funds to create 23 school sites and she will see them all built.
As for her morning call to Levy, Shulman
said she wanted to "wish him well and thank him" for his support in the council
hearing over the Maspeth site. He said that Levy has "enough strength and backbone to
do what we need," and her only concern remaining is summer school. However,
"Ive seen his plan and it looks pretty good," Shulman said.
VOICE FROM THE TRENCHES
appointment generated excitement throughout the public school system in Queens as the
system waited for the results of the unanimous vote.
When Levy took over the position on an
interim basis, he contacted every principal in every school in the city and asked for
suggestions via e-mail. The reaction has been positive, and each principal contacted by
the Tribune appeared galvanized as a result of Levys appointment.
Jeremiah McCabe, principal of P.S. 13 in
Elmhurst said, "Im very pleased that [Levy] reached out. Its great that a
line of communication opened up. Hes been there a short time and seems very
McCabe said that his school is 140-percent
over capacity, and that he hoped additional schools would be created quickly.
The principal of I.S. 61 in Corona, Phyllis
LaPerchia, added, "He responded to my e-mail. He wants to use technology to open up
communication. I think that hes going to be very good. Levy is a well-rounded
individual. Hes someone you feel comfortable talking to."
P.S. 21 in Flushing is headed by Ann
Paulson, who appreciated Levys efforts. "I thought it was wonderful. Ive
never had the opportunity to have a dialogue with a chancellor. I look forward to working
with him. He listens to concerns and responds to them." Paulson added that her main
concerns involved extra space for classes and the English Second Language program (ESL).
Principal Joseph Cantera of P.S. 237 in
Flushing said of the e-mail, "I thought it was a very positive thing to do. As a
principal, this is the first time anyone listened from the chancellors office. I feel a
connection that my opinion really matters -- and I dont feel isolated."
Dr. Eileen Kramer, principal of P.S. 18 in
Queens Village said, "I thought he was being very creative and trying to do a good
job from day one. This is the first time there has been a dialogue with the chancellor
that I can remember."
And M.S. 158s Anita Gomez-Palacio,
added, "He was asking our opinions and evidently he is acting on them. He seems to
touch all bases and is reaching out."
Kenneth Warden, principal of J.H.S. 72 in
Jamaica, said, "Its refreshing that he would reach out to all school sites to
find out our take on the kinds of services we provide. He valued our input."
Michael Serber, principal of the Academy of
American Studies in Long Island City, felt "Its always good to have the
chancellor in touch with you. It hasnt happened since Ive been a
And on behalf of the Council of
Supervisiors and Administrators (CSA) which represents the principals of the city,
Queens Jill Levy added, "Hes been an interim. He comes to the job with a
new perspective, and hes focused on what he believes he needs to do. I certainly
would like to see who he recommends to bring on board to deal with the educational issues.
We support him and wish him well."
In perspective, the now-Queens Congressman Gary Ackerman,
who was once a New York City public school teacher in Jamaica, added, "If we had Levy
20 years ago the NYC school system would be the premiere system in the nation, as I expect
it will become 10 years from now under his leadership."