Last week, Chancellor-designee Dennis Walcott visited his grandson’s school. Today, he’s visiting his own.
Walcott’s packed schedule of public appearances takes him this morning to his alma mater, Francis Lewis High School in Queens. Walcott will arrive at the Fresh Meadows school at 7:45 a.m., according to the Department of Education. That’s 15 minutes after the start of the first of 14 periods in Francis Lewis’s day.
Francis Lewis has changed a great deal since Walcott graduated in 1969. One of the few remaining comprehensive high schools in the city, the school has been squeezed as the city has closed down other neighborhood schools in the area. While Francis Lewis has long had thousands of students and run on multiple sessions, the school is now the city’s second-largest, and most overcrowded, operating at nearly 175 percent of capacity. Citing safety concerns, the teachers union sued last year over class sizes that exceeded the allowed maximum of 34 students. Yet the school still boasts a graduation rate of 80 percent, well above the city’s average, and a full complement of extracurricular offerings.
Ex-Chancellor Cathie Black also visited Francis Lewis during her brief tenure. Her quick visit in December was shielded from media attention but included a brief conversation with several student leaders. One student, Ashley Schwartz, reported in the Youth Press that Walcott, who accompanied Black, seemed more assured. Wrote Schwartz:
One student, Yessica Martinez, brought up a rather provocative question. She talked about the undocumented student community, and [asked] how Black planned to help them stay in school and achieve high marks in classes. Though Black was at a complete loss for words, Walcott quickly stepped in to help his partner out.
It’s clear that Black alone may not have all the answers, which is why I was personally relieved to know that Walcott would be on board with helping our Schools Chancellor.
This afternoon, Walcott will celebrate the city’s annual “Poem in Your Pocket” celebration with an appearance at the New York Public Library. (Mayor Bloomberg read a poem of his own creation last year; ex-Chancellor Joel Klein is partial to T.S. Eliot.) Then he’ll head down to Brooklyn for a town hall meeting in District 21, which includes Coney Island and Brighton Beach.