Curing What Ails the Classroom
Running a school system is perhaps an unlikely job for a former city budget director who once spoke with a stutter and says he would have been assigned to special education classes had they existed at the time. Yet Vallas says he understood that "there is a potential in all students that isn't always realized-that they are often victims of a system that doesn't always serve them as well as it could."
To make sure his system does perform, Vallas makes careful observations-soliciting thoughts from parents, union representatives, and teachers-and then uses them to make new assignments. "I am always gathering data," he says. "Once you know what's going on, then you can find the right people to fix what doesn't work." And he expects results. "Anyone who's worked for him feels an absolute need to be accountable," says Phil Hansen, a former elementary school principal and retired chief accountability officer for the Chicago public schools. "I've been paged while sitting in church and late on a Saturday night."
Challenges. Like Bloomberg, Vallas has also managed to avoid the paralysis that comes when contract negotiations fail. As a teenager, he coordinated a group of 30 busboys, chefs, and wait staff at his father's restaurant, and that taught him some valuable lessons, he says, including the importance of compromise. "The first order of business is always sitting down with the teachers and principals to find out what their solutions are. I did that in Chicago, and I did that here," he says. "That's probably why I've never had a strike or a slowdown and it's rare for issues to go to arbitration."
To be sure, challenges remain. Graduation and literacy rates in Philadelphia and New York are still dismal, and there is a huge and ever widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots.But there is a commitment to both the fixes and the fixers: Vallas's contract has been extended through July 2009, and he reportedly turned down an offer to head the Los Angeles school system. Mayoral control in New York will be reconsidered in the coming years as well. In the end, however, the success of education reforms can be measured only with years of hindsight. "Fixing education is a long-term thing," says Bloomberg. "Whether it takes a long time to do it, or it takes a long time to see the results, doesn't really matter.
Bloomberg on Klein
When I needed a chancellor, I went down my address book from A to Z, and I wrote down the names of anybody who I could conceivably think of somebody saying "oh he or she should be chancellor" so that I would give everybody a fair shot. And I looked down the list, and there was just no question. Right away, Joel Klein stood out. I interviewed maybe 10 people. The other nine-their names were in the paper the next day. Klein's name wasn't in the paper. That's one of the reasons to pick him. But he's also smart, and he cares. He worked his way up. Phenomenal academic background, management background, great feeling for people. I think what's important is that he leads from the front. A lot of people think that management is about doing a poll, finding out what people want, then giving it to them. That's leading from the back. Great advances are made exactly the reverse.