parents, faced with Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s plan to replace the City’s 32
community school boards and their district offices with one-third the
resources on June 30, opine at meeting after meeting about “The Tweed
Courthouse,” “The Tweed Building” or just “Tweed.”
isn’t there anything for Queens parents at this symbol of past evils and
new ambitions, of fading corruption and progressive education?
The Tribune recently took an exclusive tour of the building to learn more.
Tweed For Parents
As an administrative headquarters, there’s little for parents or students at the Tweed Courthouse, according to Department of Education (DOE) spokesman Paul Rose. The one feature of the building that the public is likely to interact with routinely, he said, is the City Hall Academy.
School District 28’s current district office will be turned into one of Division 3’s two learning support centers.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
second-ever session held at the school started on May 6, featuring 70
students from three schools: Long Island City’s P.S. 78 and two Manhattan
P.S. 78 students are third-graders.
basement-level—but sun-drenched—experimental school is one of the newest
built in the City.
A two-week academy that now runs sessions during the school year but
may expand in the future, the school is “kind of like an extended field
trip” whose “main purpose is to inspire,” Rose said.
also has some lofty educational goals, designed to be an environment for
intensive study of a single topic—an academic experience usually not
experienced by students until college.
now, the six-classroom school, filled with brand new ergonomic furniture,
computer-controlled projection systems and floors painted with maps of the
City and other educational diagrams, is focused on bridges, the nearby
Brooklyn Bridge in particular.
Photos and facts about the City’s bridges line the walls; the
structures are studied as matters of architecture, engineering, history,
economics and even literature.
sessions may shift the focus to other topics that examine the city,
according to the DOE.
The new DOE building that parents and students will interact with most, though, is their nearby “Learning Support Center,” designed to replace existing school district headquarters during a three-month rollout starting July 1.
will be four of these regional headquarters in Queens, in fact, with two for
Division 3, one for Division 4 and one for Division 5, which will also have
a Brooklyn Center.
Each Center will be the main office for its regional superintendent,
as well as its “Parent Engagement Board,” which the DOE hopes will
replace existing district-based school boards, pending Department of Justice
Learning Support Center will also host a “Parent Support Office” and
about 10 “Instructional Supervisors,” deputy superintendents of sorts
who will help principals and teachers deal with the new system and its
Parent Support Offices will each have full-time personnel “trained to
handle parent issues that cannot be resolved by parent coordinators at the
school level,” according to the DOE, which promises that parents will be
able to get the same services at all 13 Centers citywide, no matter what
district they live in.
of the borough’s Learning Support Centers—at 30-48 Linden Pl. and 28-11
Queens Plaza North—will also house DOE “Operations Centers,” which
will provide “back office support” including budgeting, technology,
human and transportation resources and administrative functions currently
performed at over 80 offices citywide, including each of the existing
A Brief Tour
Tribune requested a tour of the Tweed Courthouse recently, arguing
that it is the fear of the unknown—both administrative and
physical—that’s keeping a lot of parents and educators suspicious of the
new DOE. The
agency complied; though it barred access to private offices and cubicle
pens, the tour was an unprecedented display of openness by an agency widely
criticized for its secrecy.
three-and-a-half-story Anglo-Italianate building, a polished hunk of white
marble on the north side of City Hall Park, is a study in elegance and
the outside, the building, at 52 Chambers St., is imposing.
The wide marble staircase brings the first floor one story above the
sidewalk, letting pedestrians peek into the “basement,” which has big
the top of the stairs are four giant Corinthian columns and tall double
doors made of carved wood and too heavy to be designed for human use.
inside, and the building is a lot more open and inviting.
The first sight after the security desk and metal detector, just past
a sculpted and arched opening, is a grand rotunda that starts with the
basement one story below and a huge octagonal skylight two-and-a-half
stories above. The
whole space is awash in breezy air and natural light and recalls an ancient
Roman temple a lot more than a 21st-century Manhattan municipal building.
the Tweed building is an interesting mix of old and new.
Despite the classical architecture and building materials—there’s
actually a steel cage elevator—signs of the most advanced technology
with big LCD screens connected to the DOE’s data network dot the common
building’s main office spaces are filled with open cubicles.
A spokesman said that Chancellor Joel Klein uses a cubicle himself,
not a closed office, but he wouldn’t let us see it.
Tweed Courthouse: A Recent History
Tweed Courthouse’s recent renovation cost about $90 million, or 150
percent over initial budget estimates.
a lot of people, the miscalculation immediately recalled the scandal the
building was built upon in the late 19th century, in which a project
originally estimated to cost no more than $4 million and take a few years
ended up costing $11 to $12 million and taking 20 years, including 10 years
others, the project, championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, represented
overspending on a municipal agency with over 1,200 buildings—the public
schools—to maintain and more to build.
dissatisfaction may be natural, considering the circumstances.
new headquarters of the DOE, the corporate-style result of much
deconstruction of the Board of Education by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is the
site of one of the biggest municipal shake-ups in City history.
Members of the establishment—and the many regular working people
who are losing their jobs under the restructuring—seethed.
fact that the Courthouse was built upon a foundation of graft by one of the
most notoriously corrupt political bosses in the City’s history, and still
bears his name, doesn’t help either.
Even Bloomberg acknowledged this.
most of its life,” the mayor said about the building a year ago while
trying to convince the City to approve it for use as the new DOE
headquarters, “it has had to endure a sad reputation as an empty monument
to corruption and waste.”
most primal core of the suspicious looks towards the Tweed Courthouse and
the new DOE is the fear of the unknown.
many old Board of Education staff members from Queens are working in the new
system, many will also be relocated out of the borough.
That includes the borough’s seven community school district
superintendents and single high school superintendent, all of whom are, as
of the latest announcements, either taking education posts elsewhere in
other boroughs or leaving the system entirely.
And with three entirely new faces scheduled to lead the three “Instructional Divisions” that will include the borough’s existing community school districts, Queens parents and school staff have very few familiar faces in the house that Boss Tweed built.