By Michelle Han
You would be the head of the New York City schools system, according to the actual chief – Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, who addressed more than 200 business leaders at a Queens Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday focusing on education.
The business analogy was a familiar one for Levy, who delivered a similar message to members of the Long Island City Business Development Corporation earlier this month.
By comparing the city schools system to a corporation with employees (teachers), a management structure (principals and superintendents), and a product (student performance), Levy implored the borough's business community to spend a few moments in his shoes as a chancellor who has become known for cutting bureaucracy and improving efficiency at the Board of Education.
“Imagine if you're going into a business and you're going in the door and of the 78,000 employees you have, 11,000 can't do the job,” Levy said. “That's what we've got.”
Some 11,000 uncertified teachers are in the system, Levy said, and 300 of the city's 1,110 school principals have fewer than two years' experience.
As former director of global compliance for Citicorp, Levy said it was hard to imagine running a company in such a manner. But as chancellor, he urged the business community to become involved with schools by forging partnerships, creating internships, and providing a mentorship role for principals, whom he said were the equivalent of the heads of mini-corporations running on a tight budget.
“Think about ways you can get involved with the school down the block,” he said.
As proof that his mission was to “rebuild legitimacy in the system,” Levy used this year's summer school program as an example of how the system can work even in the face of low expectations.
He said 41 percent of those at the bottom tier of students in summer school – some of whom were barely reading by the fourth grade, all of whom would not make it to the next grade – were promoted after the five-week summer school program.
Far from a brilliant success, Levy said, “it was adequate, that's all. But it had results.”
Levy's message seemed to resonate among members of the Queens chamber, who praised his ability to communicate clearly and his efforts to connect students with practical applications of their studies through links with the businesses they are being trained to work for.
Queens Chamber of Commerce President Joseph Farber said the business community welcomed the involvement in schools that Levy suggested. “We support these programs, we have these partnerships,” he said.
Borough President Claire Shulman presented the chancellor with a wooden apple and a citation of honor from the borough of Queens.
Scott Kratchel, a College Point teen and student at Aviation High School's annex at Kennedy Airport, said his internship at Delta Airlines was proof that building partnerships with business interests can help students.
“You can be taught all the things in the world but when you actually do it, it's a whole different thing,” he said.