Harold Levy Changes a Culture

Anyone who follows New York’s

school foibles knows that politicians have been railing against the Board of

Education and its gigantic bureaucracy for decades. Every candidate for the

City Council or State Legislature, it seems, has a boilerplate denunciation of

the unwieldy school board, complete with ritualized calls for massive personnel

cuts.

But, of course, nothing ever comes of all this rhetoric. The

board’s central staff, snug and smug in its little cocoon at 110

Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn,

survives Mayors and Chancellors. It remains a labyrinth of disaster.

That is, until now.

Schools Chancellor Harold Levy has announced that he will

eliminate more than 1,500 administrative jobs at the Board of Education over

the next three years. In delivering this welcome news, Mr. Levy said: “Today we

begin an effort to change a culture.” That’s precisely what’s needed, precisely

the task that others have ducked for so many years.

The job cutbacks will

save more than $300 million, but money is almost-almost-beside the

point. As Mr. Levy knows, the imperial Board of Education is not just an expensive piece of bureaucracy,

but a metaphor for our school system’s failures. Dismantling it will

save money, sure, but it will also send a welcome message to educators,

students and parents alike: This time, finally, somebody cares enough to tear down an obstacle to educational progress.

Mr. Levy, a business leader who understands how things run,

and how they don’t, undoubtedly will come under fire from the masters of the

status quo. Indeed, there already have been whispers that he doesn’t have the

support of the city’s permanent government. Perhaps that is so. But he should

have the support of those good-hearted people who care about public education

in New York. He was handed an

extremely difficult assignment-one that has broken many of his predecessors-and

has begun making headway. Now is not the time to abandon him. Rather, it is

time to support him, to rally behind his ideas and to take the measure of those

who would oppose him.

One good sign is the supportive comments of Randi

Weingarten, head of the United Federation of Teachers. While her union will not

be affected by the cuts-the lost jobs come from management-it’s good to see the

powerful U.F.T. getting behind Mr. Levy’s efforts at reform.

Come January, New York will have a new Mayor. That person would be well-advised

to retain Mr. Levy when his contract expires next June. Harold Levy has become

one of New York’s heroes, and he

deserves more time as he goes about the business of changing a culture.

Al Sharpton, National

Joke

Have you heard that Al Sharpton wants to run for President

in 2004? No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke … although, on second thought,

obviously it is. Whether anybody besides the formerly rotund reverend finds

this amusing, however, remains to be seen.

Newly sprung from a jail cell, where he spent 90 deserved

days for his antics in Vieques, Mr. Sharpton announced that he will form an

exploratory committee in anticipation of a Presidential campaign next time

around. The thought of Mr. Sharpton tramping the fields of Iowa and the hamlets

of northern New Hampshire during the dead of winter does suggest that revenge for

his lies, bigoted remarks and shady financial dealings may be nigh. Still, it

is beyond absurd that such a character could even think of running for the

nation’s highest office-and, even worse, could get the news media to take such

a campaign seriously.

Mr. Sharpton and his anti-Semitic friends no doubt believe

that a Presidential campaign would be good for the business of hate-it probably

would lead to prime-time interviews, lucrative speaking engagements and

big-time book deals. But those who would co-conspire

in making Mr. Sharpton a national political figure should reexamine

their consciences. Perhaps they believe Mr. Sharpton’s nonsense about being a

voice for minority concerns. That should not preclude the media, however, from

reminding the public of Mr. Sharpton’s past outrages, from the Tawana Brawley

lie to his friendship with such anti-Semites

as Louis Farrakhan. These are not “youthful indiscretions.” These appalling

episodes tell us everything we need to know

about this self-appointed Presidential candidate.

Al Sharpton for President? Yes,

it’s a joke, all right. Unfortunately, the joke’s on us.

Ninety Seconds

With the Labor Day weekend in sight, many of us will be

preparing for one last round of summer networking in the country and at the

beach, one last round of card exchanges

over cocktails with new business contacts. For others, Labor Day marks the beginning of a new academic year, when

teachers will meet new students, and students will meet new teachers,

and both will meet new peers.

This is a time of year when first impressions matter, when

people get their first and perhaps last chance to make a new friend or

influence a new authority figure. For those people, a new book seems made to

order. Author Nicholas Boothman has written

a volume entitled How to Make People Like You in 90 Sec onds or Less . Talk about timely! Mr. Boothman’s advice seems

tailored for busy New Yorkers who probably

have no more than a minute and a half to make an impression, or a teacher trying to make a quick and vivid impression

on a classroom of skeptical kids. Or, for that matter,

a shrewd student hoping to be able to skate through a class on charm rather

than intellect.

Mr. Boothman suggests asking questions that start with “how”

as a means of getting people to open up and start talking. He also emphasizes

eye contact and suggests that you approach people with your heart pointing at

their hearts. So, come Labor Day weekend, if some smiling stranger looks you in

the eye and asks you how your summer was, be prepared to make a new friend.