[ProgressiveEd] Meeting with Joel Klein and Michele Cahill

[email protected] [email protected]
Fri, 11 Apr 2003 09:23:15 EDT

Dear folks,
Congratulations to the PENNY delegation that met with Joel Klein and Michele 
Cahill yesterday.  You would have been proud of us.  People were clear, 
passionate, and informed.  We didn't get to ask all of our questions, but we 
saw this as a first meeting.  Mr. Klein asked that we meet with him on a 
monthly basis.  He said that these meetings are extremely helpful to him.
Here are some of the things we talked about:  CHOICE:  Parents talked about 
the reasons why they chose our schools and about the children's love of 
learning as a result of the way they're taught in our schools.  They 
explained how our schools look at their children as complete people.  One 
parent explained that she had attended a private school, as a child, but was 
constantly sick because she couldn't stand going to school.  Her mother saw 
this and switched her to one of our schools.  She thrived.  The same 
experience happened with her own children.  Joel Klein was clearly moved.  We 
talked about the diversity of our schools, our intake processes, and the 
effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation.  We talked about the 
accessibility to parents of staffs and administrations of our schools.  And 
we pointed out that many of our parents chose our schools precisely because 
they reject having their children measured by test scores.  Other areas:  We 
talked about needing passionate, committed teachers and how you develop a 
sense of community within a school.  We talked about the importance of being 
allowed to build curriculum, which enables staffs to work together to discuss 
and develop curriculum.  In this way, our schools exceed the standards.  One 
delegate member showed her own portfolio she did as part of the staff 
development work her school does for each staff member.  Ms. Cahill and Mr. 
Klein were clearly impressed.  A student spoke about the way her school 
community brought her in and encouraged her to participate, even as it helped 
her to learn English.  She talked about the studies she's been engaged with 
at her school.  Again, very impressive.  We talked about ways our schools 
assess learning in the service of the child.  We talked about the broad lens 
through which our schools look at each child.
Mr. Klein listened first and then spoke.  He asked that we set up monthly 
meetings with him ("regardless of whether or not we agree", he said that the 
meetings would be important to him).  He said that his job was twofold:  to 
preserve the many wonderful things that are happening in New York schools and 
to deal with the need for change in schools that are obviously not 
functioning well.  He said that the No Child Left Behind legislation has to 
be dealt with.  (He acknowledged that it was serious threat to our schools 
and to other schools in New York.)   He said that this legislation has a lot 
of force and raises an equity issue:  Parents needs help to get their 
children out of terrible situations.  Mr. Klein said that parents' requests 
for transfers had to be handled centrally.  He said that test scores aren't 
the be all and end all, but a lot of children are not learning to read.  He 
talked about looking at test scores longitudinally as one way to deal with 
the fluctuations in scores.  He said that the core curriculum they selected 
was flexible and progressive (in fact, he said, they'd caught a lot of heat 
for this).  He said that his focus was to work with principals and school by 
school coaches to do staff development better.  He said that, over time, his 
goal was to make schools autonomous.  Then, he said that he was less 
concerned that his "reforms" would disable us than he was that not reforming 
the system would allow nonfunctioning schools to continue to hurt children.  
He said that he knew we were strong and that we would find a way to do what 
we wanted to do anyway.  Mr. Klein said that he saw in the schools that he 
visited that we do wonderful work, but he said that he also saw room for 
Our message to Mr. Klein and Ms. Cahill was that we're not asking for 
exceptionalism for our schools.  We want to be able to continue to do the 
work we've been doing, not at the expense of any other schools.  We think 
that we can be of help in spreading our approach to staff development work 
and in other areas.  Certainly, all of our schools think long and hard about 
ways to build our own understandings of children and curriculum and about 
meaningful parent involvement.  Mr. Klein responded very positively to the 
suggestion that we do a five-year study, using quantitative data (test 
scores) and qualitative data (a descriptive assessment).  We need to talk 
about specifics with him.
Steering Committee meeting this Monday, April 14, at 6 P.M. at Ann Wiener's 
house, 310 Riverside Drive, apt. 1007.
The meeting with Mr. Klein and Ms. Cahill was a good start.  We didn't ask 
many of the questions we needed to ask.  Please send your questions (things 
you need to know about) back on the listserv.  These will help to guide any 
further conversations.  Let me start us off with two questions that need 
follow up.
1.  What is the specific procedure for our academies and programs becoming 
2.  Where will the staff developers come from?  What kinds of direction will 
they get and from whom?