Walcott deeply rooted in boro school system

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott (l.) walks his 7-year-old grandson, Justin, to PS 36 in St. Albans a day after he was nominated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to replace former Schools Chancellor Cathie Black. AP Photo/Henry Ray Abrams
By Howard Koplowitz

The streets of southeast Queens are buzzing with excitement after one of their own was chosen to lead the city’s school system and its 1.1 million children.

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, a Cambria Heights resident and a product of PS 36 in St. Albans, JHS 192 in Hollis and Francis Lewis HS, was tapped by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to be the next city schools chancellor after the short-lived tenure of Cathie Black, who was seen as aloof and having no connections to public education.

“It wasn’t working,” said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans). “I think Dennis wants the school system to work. This is his baby. It is commendable that he decided to roll the dice.”

Walcott, a former member of the defunct Board of Education, needs a waiver to officially begin serving as chancellor because he does not have the requisite superintendent’s license. He is the third straight mayoral appointee to need such a waiver, following Black and former chancellor Joel Klein.

Walcott, whose family comes from Barbados and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a former kindergarten teacher and was president and chief executive officer of the New York Urban League before he joined Bloomberg’s administration as deputy mayor for education and community development in 2002.

Walcott also had close ties to his community, once serving as president of the Cambria Heights Civic Association.

“I think he’s perfect for the job. You couldn’t ask for a better candidate,” said former Cambria Heights Civic Association President Kevin Jemmott. “He’s even-tempered, fair. I think he brings to the table the level-headedness that’s needed.”

Jemmott’s successor as civic president, Kelli Singleton, said she has known Walcott from the community and was “elated” after learning Bloomberg picked Walcott.

“I have been in acquaintance with him for the past six years or more and always felt that he would be a good candidate for the position and once told him so,” Singleton said. “He is approachable, intelligent and very knowledgeable about the public school system, having been on both spectrums of it.”

Before heading up the Urban League, Walcott was executive director of the Harlem Dowling Westside Center, where he expanded services for children and families, according to his bio.

After graduating from Francis Lewis, Walcott attended and graduated from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut with a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees in education.

He then attended Fordham University, where he received a Masters of Social Work degree.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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