Solomon "Walcott" Grundy
November 15, 2011
Solomon ?Walcott? Grundy
This is the story of Solomon ?Walcott? Grundy ? so far.
If there could be such a thing as a collective sigh of relief in a city of 7 million, New York had a week-long version of it with the elevation of Dennis Walcott to Chancellor of the City's schools on April 7. In fact, if there is any single event that sums up Michael Bloomberg's genius, it was dumping publishing celeb Cathie Black after just 96 days on the job (January 1?April 6, 2011) and replacing her with former kindergarten teacher Walcott.? Let the honeymoon begin.
But perhaps here's the point; at least, one of them.? Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein were successful at remaking, in Bloomberg's words, ?the rinky-dink candy store.? It has not been easy. Klein was gutsy and smart ? and from New York. He had street creds with his magna cum laude ? and he could take a hit.? And what the Cathie Black appointment proved was that the remade system now needed an able manager, not another rehabber, especially a brittle one from Chicago. We don't know that Walcott is the man, but he's an insider, knows the territory, knows how to keep a low profile and smile properly. He has carriage--and can make waffles for a classroom of kids.
In a speech at Teachers College last Saturday (his first after taking office, one that Black was supposed to give), he ?poured on the charm,? as Davin McHenry of the Hechinger Report wrote.? Said Walcott:
People on both sides of this debate have been guilty of contributing to the current polarized atmosphere?.? The poisonous debate is hurting our children, plain and simple. And they don't have time to wait for us to grow up? The problems facing our schools are extremely complicated. They can't be summed up in 10-word sound-bites. And above all they can't be solved until we start listening and working together.
True enough.? And we shall see, of course. In the meantime, if he hasn't already done so, before dipping into Alexander Russo's new book on Green Dot and Steve Barr (see Jay Matthew's review of Stray Dogs?), I recommend that Walcott read Russo's extensive profile of Tom Payzant, in Education Next, from a few years ago.? One of the more successful urban superintendents of our time, Payzant, wrote Russo, was an ?education diplomat? who ?refutes the notion that radical changes are needed to improve urban education. He was never the type of reformer to talk about `blowing up' the system or `turning things on their head' to achieve laudable ends.?
It may be what Gotham now needs. And maybe the kid from Queens is the right guy for the job.
--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow