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Testing His Legacy: Klein Pushes Buttons When Seeking Public Input

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TWC News: Testing His Legacy: Klein Listens To Reason
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In the fourth part of NY1's series on Joel Klein's legacy, education reporter Lindsey Christ looks at the public perception of the chancellor and his relationship with the community.

He said it often during the many evenings he spent in church basements or school auditoriums, often being yelled at by parents -- "I want to work with you and I want to hear from you." Yet a chief complaint was that Joel Klein didn't listen, or just pretended to listen. Klein says he just didn't always agree.

"I once met with some people here and there was somebody who was opposed to testing, very strong views about it. And I listened to her views and we had a discussion. And in the end, I said, 'With all due respect, I just disagree.' And she said, 'Well you're not listening.' And I said, 'Of course I'm listening, I just disagree.'"

Klein was a polarizing figure, with consistently mediocre numbers in public opinion polls. He did have admirers who adored him and followed him like an educational messiah.

But there were many who weren't so reverent, including those whose dislike was so extreme, they raged when addressing him. His BlackBerry could be the symbol of the split sentiment.

"If you're a parent and you muster up the courage to go stand in a public forum and go tell the head of the school system who you finally got an audience with what you want to say and he doesn't even look at you but plays on his BlackBerry, it sends a message that he doesn't think what you have to say is important. And I think unfortunately that has done a lot of damage," said Kim Sweet of Advocates for Children.

"It was an Achilles heel only to this degree. Joel mastered how to listen, talk, think and work on a BlackBerry all at the same time. But you still got 100 percent of his attention but it doesn't seem that way," said Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone.

When Klein first became chancellor, he came on NY1, announced his email address and told parents, teachers, and students to contact him directly. He promised he'd get back to them, and he did, often within the hour and sometimes at strange hours, like 4:15 in the morning.

"See for awhile I thought it was just me. I must be really special. Joel got right back to me. Joel gets back to everybody," Canada said.

Still, in public meetings, it made it appear he wasn't listening to anybody.

Klein says he was listening and responding, but making his own decisions -- decisions that weren't always popular but he's convinced were right.

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