After a tough few months at the Department of Education, the mood in Tweed Courthouse was practically festive Thursday as incoming Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott took the helm of the city public school system. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
If there was any question about how Department of Education staffers feel about the change at the top, the answer was clear the moment Dennis Walcott stepped up to the podium in Tweed Courthouse Thursday to loud applause.
"It is a pleasure to stand before you and I am just so happy to be here. I am just so happy to see all of you," said Walcott, between rounds of applause.
It has been a rocky few months, with two more Deputy Chancellors announcing their resignations just this week, for a total of four since the appointment of outgoing School Chancellor Cathie Black.
Staffers said the public perception of Black made their jobs harder. So they were relieved that the man who stood right behind the chancellor for nine years is taking over the role.
"You’ve seen me around all the time," said Walcott. "You know there is the back-and-forth Walcott path that goes from City Hall to Tweed, Tweed to City Hall. Now I am going to have to have the reverse of that path."
For the past few months, Dennis Walcott was the one holding Black's arm, or holding her hand.
For the eight years before that, he was former Chancellor Joel Klein's first phone call in the morning and last phone call at night. Klein jokingly called Walcott his "other spouse."
Walcott is as familiar at the DOE as Black was unfamiliar.
"Dennis has the experience of community engagement and being able to listen," said Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson, the head of the council's education committee.
Walcott makes no bones about it -- he does not plan on changing a thing. He will continue Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education agenda of school choice, grading principals, teachers and schools, and closing down schools that do not work.
"We have a collective responsibility to continue the reforms that we've started for the past nine years and making sure that we up the ante and double down on those reforms," said Walcott.
Like Black and Klein before him, Walcott needs a waiver from the state Education Commissioner, since he does not have the formal credentials for the job.
In a statement Thursday, outgoing Commissioner David Steiner called Walcott an "outstanding choice" and said he looks forward to receiving Walcott's waiver request.