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School Chancellor Walcott Pushes For Respect At First PEP Meeting

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TWC News: School Chancellor Walcott Pushes For Respect At First PEP Meeting
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Dennis Walcott took part in his first Panel for Educational Policy meeting since becoming schools chancellor on Thursday, and took a different tone with angry parents than his predecessor.

When Walcott got to sit in the chancellor's special seat in the center of the panel in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, the first thing he did was stand up and walk off the stage to address the crowd directly.

"I hear a lot of times from individuals, you know, you talk to us and we don't respond to you at all," said Walcott. "A couple of things. I'll be respectful of you, please be respectful of me."

The monthly education panel meetings have been very contentious in recent years, with frustrated parents, teachers and students often shouting over the panel members.

Chancellor Cathie Black got in trouble when she sneered back at the crowd in January.

Walcott came down into the audience on Thursday to say he wants the meetings be more civil and more interactive. The public could still talk to the panel for two minutes at the microphone, but now staff members were also available with index cards for comments or questions.

From now on, each month, the panel will discuss one particular policy issue with the public.

However, many members of the audience said they still have serious disagreements with the city's education policy.

Some said that as long as the panel always votes the way the mayor wants it to, it is impossible to have productive, respectful debates at these meetings.

"He's obviously a personable guy and we appreciate that and it's true that if you are going to have a debate, it's very difficult to hear if people are shouting. I appreciate that," said parent Paola Dekock. "But the bottom line is that people want to be heard and they want to not just be heard but want some consequences to what they say."

This meeting was different in some ways. Walcott repeatedly broke into the conversation to respond or offer his opinion. But the usual issues, like whether charter schools should be able to share space with public schools, still dominated the conversation, and it was not always friendly.

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