Keynote Address


I started thinking I would talk today about my current frustration—the frustration of trying to start a dozen new small high schools for kids who would otherwise be attending schools neither you nor I would be willing to send our own children to. Most of the time it seems I cannot get anything done. My list of “to do’s” remains intolerably similar from week to week. Unlike the days when I was a kindergarten teacher, I am dealing with the school system at its most impossible. No one who works close to the kids in the New York City system—or any other large urban school system—has any real power. The time it takes to get the people with real power to move seems inordinate. This is not because they are bad folks — not at all. Rather it is because it is overwhelming for them, too. They must attend to over one thousand schools with a million students, and only two or three of them are in a position to make a final decision, especially if it is precedent-setting. And they no longer have to deal with a Deborah Meier who does her stuff quietly, on the sly, as she did for so many years, but rather one who tells everyone very loudly and clearly and, thus, sets precedents. Nowadays that is part of my job — to set precedents for others to follow.

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