Wendeen Puts Mayor on the Spot

In a meeting, by invitation of the Association for a Better New York ABNY), the Mayor schooled business and civic leaders and a sprinkling of politicos in the crowd, on his determined vision for Equity and Excellence in NYC public schools—for all children. But, he was pointedly mum about public schools that are currently accessible only to specially “gifted children. “

As a graduate of one of those schools, and having been motivated to do the necessary to qualify for admission, I was beginning to lament the prospect of a school system void of special opportunities for those who earn them. I questioned the Mayor as noted in the corrected City Hall transcript:*

Wendeen’s Question: Mr. Mayor thank you very much for the report. It’s exciting, I think for everybody in the room to know the emphasis that is placed on “Equity and Excellence for All.” I am interested in knowing the extent to which we’re going to be rolling out this concept in all of those schools – how will that affect your view of the special schools we currently have in New York, and will we need more of them? Will we need to expand them or will we have lesser need for those few schools that have typically attracted people who are highly talented, as proven through the testing process primarily?

The Mayor’s Answer in pertinent part: “A fantastic question, (Wendeen). Can I give you a gold star for the question? If we were in the classroom, I’d be giving you a gold star right now. This is the kind of thing I think we need to talk a lot about – much more about in this city. Specialized schools are extraordinary. They have turned out a generation of leaders in all fields. You know, we just – an easy example in the national dynamics in just the last few years – Eric Holder one of the most prominent leaders of the Obama administrations, David Axelrod who helped bring you the Obama administration both from Stuyvesant. So, pretty amazing people, congratulations to Stuyvesant. I would make a speech about Brooklyn Tech – great graduates like Len Riggeo and Dante de Blasio.

So they play a very, very crucial role, and they will certainly continue to. And I think there’s absolutely an open door – there’s certainly the potential of more specialized schools, but even more clearly there’s the potential to take models that work and expand them out. For example, where my daughter went – Beacon High School – tremendously successful, was used to create another great high school. That model and that approach was literally transported to another site on the Upper West Side and the new Frank McCord high school has started. So you can take a model and kind of replicate it in many ways, so yes we will continue to take great models and build them out and add new versions of them.

But at the same time – because your question is wonderfully precise about is there a contradiction with this theme – no, I don’t believe there is. The goal is to say, you can take any school and give it the kinds of things it never had, and the world will start to change. That is not a lack of acknowledgement of other realities as to the previous question."

On the way out the door of the meeting, the Chairman of ABNY, Bill Rudin caught my eye to say, “Great question.” New Yorkers need to keep their foot on the pedal to develop Equity and Excellence without sacrificing the incentive of special schools for parents who succeed in teaching their children the merits and the benefits of accountability, at a young age.