The deputy mayor spent his first week as Schools Chancellor-designee crisscrossing the city. A man on a mission, he testified at a City Council hearing, spoke from the pulpit of a Fort Greene church, and addressed parents of special education students at a meeting in Long Island City.
At every stop, Walcott made sure to remind listeners of his public school roots: he attended city schools as a child, has a Master's degree in education, and spent two years teaching kindergarten. Since Bloomberg took office, Walcott has served as one of his top education aides.
The contrast to Black - a magazine publisher with no education background who was forced out of office by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after her approval rating with parents dropped to 17 percent - could not have been more clear.
And though Walcott, like his predecessor, needs a state waiver to take charge of the nation's largest public school system, so far his charm offensive seems to be working.
“Dennis Walcott has the experience, expertise and talent to take over the helm as chancellor,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who led city officials in praising his appointment.
“He knows our schools, the city and city government,” said State Senator Jose Peralta. Walcott “is the best person for the job at this time, no question about it.”
Walcott's whirlwind tour continued April 11 in Boerum Hill, where he visited P.S. 261.
He dropped by several classrooms, took part in a dance lesson with first grade students and even joined in an impromptu kickball game at the Pacific Street school.
Walcott was tagged out trying to stretch a double into a triple. Afterwards, he told reporters the school visit was one of hundreds he's taken in recent years.
“I'm always in a school, visiting with children,” Walcott said. “It's important for parents to see that our principals and teachers are doing a great job.”
P.S. 261 parents and staff were impressed.
“His rapport with the children is extraordinary,” said parent coordinator Jerry Piper.
Principal Zipporiah Mills agreed, but said her top priority remains funding. Recently, the school's intervention and teacher development programs were scaled back, she said.
“It makes a difference” having a schools chancellor who knows the system, Mills said. But “I don't want to lose anymore money.”