The Good School Promise

Given his anti-trust case load at Justice, Joel Klein’s appointment as NYC Chancellor was one of the strangest days of my life.  But (long story short) we were working together a few months later to support the development of new schools.
Klein proved to be America’s best example of an urban system head committed to ‘the good school promise.’  Joel had the courage to close struggling schools and open new schools (and the good fortune to work for a mayor that supported him).  Tweed (NYC DOE office) buzzed with smart young people trying to keep up with Klein’s relentless pace.
With a charter cap in place, Klein’s team took advantage of the capacity community groups to help develop new schools.  New Visions for Public Schools flourished as the nation’s leading intermediary.  Urban Assembly, Good Sheppard, Expeditionary Learning, and others developed networks of good new high schools and boosting the cities graduation rate.
Joel fought for and won the right to open more charters and took full advantage—Village Academy, Success Network, and Achievement First developed some of America’s best elementary schools in high needs neighborhoods.  Klein’s portfolio approach leveraged mass transit and traded bad seats for good seats as fast as city and state politics would allow.
Each year in office, Joel became a more powerful advocate for children.  In clear and compelling terms, he became America’s leading reform advocate.  Recognizing the importance of mobilizing underserved communities, Joel founded Education Equality Project, a leading gap-closing advocacy organization (now co-chaired by Michael Lomas and Janet Murguia).
One of the most important developments in education in the last decade, School of One, was piloted in NYC because Joel made room for innovation.  The NYC iSchool would not have been approved as a charter, but Joel backed the innovative high school destined to be one of the city’s finest.
While some argued with his tactics, it was hard to argue with his motives.  Joel put the kids of NYC first.  And they were fortunate—we were all fortunate—to have him there for most of a decade.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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