Bloomberg touts school openings, says he doesn't know yet how many will close
This afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled 54 new schools and defended closing others, as part of his effort to reform the city’s school system since gaining mayoral control at the start of his administration.
He spoke with schools chancellor Dennis Walcott next to a map with many of the new schools, most of which were scattered in Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Northern Manhattan. Behind him were some of the new principals, assistant principals, teachers and founders.
“Just think about that, 54 schools is more schools than most cities have,” he said.
Among those schools are 24 charter schools, including three Brooklyn Success Academy locations. The new schools will accept 7,000 students in the fall and eventually grow to accommodate 21,000 students.
One of the new schools is an Academy for Software Engineering which would replace the school they were speaking from, the Washington Irving School, which is slated for closure. The new school, which will focus on software programming and technical skills, joins Roosevelt Island’s Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute as part of the city’s effort to court technology students.
Once the schools open, there would be 589 schools opened since Bloomberg became mayor and, he said, when the new schools open, “small schools” will account for approximately a third of all of the city’s 1,700 public schools. (The total number of students, Walcott pointed out, equaled those of the Philadelphia school district).
Bloomberg also cited improving test scores, especially among black and Hispanic students.
“It’s really amazing,” he said. “You don’t change anything overnight. Everything that’s worthwhile requires hard work to do. And there are always people who question, and that’s fine, this is a democracy, but I think there’s no question that if we have changed a third of the schools since 2002, it is an achievement that nobody, nobody, would have thought possible.”
Some of those questioners include mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, who at an education breakfast this morning said he’d heard D.O.E. and Bloomberg administration sources who say the city aims to close up to 75 schools next year and called for an end to closures. The city has closed 140 schools so far and could likely vote to close 23 next week.
“We’ve looked at those schools and based on data from the last year or so, we’ve taken some of those schools off the closing list because they’ve done better," Bloomberg said, in response to a question about the closings. "Why would you not do that? But I don’t know what’s going to happen next year, and I don’t even know why you focus on … ”
Then he stopped to take another question.
Bloomberg later went back to defend school closures and dismissed a contention by mayoral candidate and former comptroller Bill Thompson earlier in the day that the administration plans to close 75 schools next year.
“In terms of an 80 number or a 74 number, I don’t know where you get this stuff. We haven’t even had a conversation about it, OK? And it’s not going to happen without us. So, you know, pick a number ... It’s less than the total number of schools that are in the city and greater than zero. Is that a fair range? You’ve got 1,700 to write a story about, I guess.”
He dismissed questions about the upcoming election and responded to a reporter's question about a suggestion from this would-be Democratic successes that local Community Education Councils be given more important into education policy.
“But to say that 'I’m in favor of mayoral control but I want to turn over the power to others' is very similar to my example of ‘I’m pro-choice, but not for women,’” Bloomberg said.
There was a lighter moment earlier when, citing today as the start of school-wide testing, Walcott drilled Bloomberg about the number of new students in city schools.
“How many students do you think attend these new schools?”
“Well, I’d say 350,000,” Bloomberg said.
The actual number was closer to 184,000.
After being corrected, Bloomberg said the numbers should rise as the schools grow, and Walcott said he was right.
“You’re watching the mayor and chancellor show right now,” he said to the room. “184,000 students at this point and ..."
“Growing, too?” Bloomberg said.
Walcott agreed, saying the mayor was "always right."
"I don’t want to be an ex-chancellor,” he said to laughs from the room, including the future principals behind them.