Bit off topic... anybody know what's doing at the former Board of Ed HQ in DT Brooklyn/Boerum Hill?
From The New York Sun
EDITORIALS & OPINION
The New Tweed Ring
- There is a certain poetry to the move of the new Department of Education to the Tweed Courthouse. For the courthouse stands in the history of the city as a symbol of municipal corruption. This is on account of its namesake and progenitor, William Marcy Tweed. Coming to influence in the 1850s and falling from power in the 1870s, Tweed ran the city as a patronage machine for his own benefit and that of his cronies who were members of what was called the Tweed Ring. A writer of the era, quoted by the Edward Robb Ellis in his “The Epic of New York City,” defined a Tweed Ring as “a hard band in which there is gold all round and without end.” In practice, this meant that corrupt government officials would solicit and take bribes from contractors, artisans, and merchants looking to do business with the city and then parcel out lucrative goodies in return. The project that brought Tweed down was the construction of a courthouse that cost millions of dollars, some 90% of which went to graft. This is the symbol in which Mayor Bloomberg has insisted on headquartering the city’s schools.
Neither these columns nor anyone else is suggesting that Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki, Chancellor Klein, or Randi Weingarten is corrupt. On the contrary, they are notably honest idealists. No doubt such a spirit infuses most of those who work under them in the Department of Education. None is getting rich on the public purse like Boss Tweed and the members of his ring, a band of politicians, contractors, and city officials implicated in the courthouse thievery and illuminated and lampooned by the father of modern political cartooning, Thos. Nast. But the very honesty and idealism of the current leadership makes all the more dramatic the growing frustration with the direction of education policy.
This started with Mr. Klein’s first days in office, when he complained that resources were scarce. This at a time when taxpayers were ponying up something on the order of $14 billion dollars for a school system to which many of them, rich and poor, don’t feel comfortable sending their children. The sense is compounded by Mr. Pataki’s sweetheart deal, which in the face of one of the worst fiscal crises in the history of New York City handed the teachers a pay increase that would cost a staggering $1.1 billion over the 30-month life of the contract. It did get Mr. Pataki the hearty endorsement of the teachers union as he bids for a third term. Mr. Bloomberg acceded to this in the course of his battle for control.
As a symbol of his commitment to change, Mr. Bloomberg decided to have the DOE vacate its quarters at 110 Livingston Street — which Mayor Giuliani once called, “a symbol of a bloated bureaucracy in desperate need of systematic reform” and also once said he would like to “blow up” — and moved them into an edifice whose very purpose was to facilitate the lining of the pockets of Boss Tweed and the members of his ring. The fig leaf promised on the deal was that at least a school would be set up in the Tweed Courthouse, but this week even that little symbol went by the boards.
Meantime, as our columnist Andrew Wolf has pointed out, the city is starting to undertake studies, backed by private philanthropic funding, on how to improve the school system. But they are bankrolling a roster of familiar names, few of whom can be expected to advance the kind of radical reform of the school system for which many New Yorkers are hungering. Mr. Wolf has cited the involvement of such leftist critics of education as Norm Fruchter of New York University. He also cautions about Beth Leif and New Visions for Public Schools, which he calls part of New York’s “University Institutional Complex” — that is, groups that propose educational policies and then prosper through the awarding of the millions of dollars in contracts that go to execute them.
Mr. Klein has shrugged off the idea of such approaches as school vouchers, characterizing their flaw as that they would not solve the problems of the public monopoly. His recent comments ignored the fact that the issue addressed by vouchers is whether poor families can be given access to other educational choices the way rich families can. Educational policy in the city is proceeding as if the voucher movement didn’t exist. It has failed to address publicly the bigotry that begat the Blaine amendment in the state. The administration has betrayed the promise of a new school on the Upper East Side that would be a symbol of the idea that wealthy sections of the city, which pay so much in taxes, could actually be served by a public school.
The city is also proceeding as if the Congress had not passed a law called the “No Child Left Behind Act,” which, broadly put, is designed to give ordinary pupils the right to escape failing schools without delay and transfer to a school that is working. The new administration of the city’s schools seems as reluctant as the old, despite the new law. It’s not a case of personal corruption, but it is a case of hubris that would have brought a smile to the visage of William Marcy Tweed himself. The way things are going people are going to start wondering what kind of cartoon Thos. Nast would draw were he to come back in a year or two. It wouldn’t surprise us were he to fetch up with a depiction of a New Tweed Ring Who Failed the Peoples Children. And it might be captioned, as the above cartoon was, with a question about what happened to the people’s money.
Copyright 2002 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC. All rights reserved.
Bit off topic... anybody know what's doing at the former Board of Ed HQ in DT Brooklyn/Boerum Hill?
October 30, 2002
'Tweed Academy' Is Latest Courthouse Role
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg revealed plans yesterday for a "learning center" in the Tweed Courthouse, where students from around the city will come for classes with New York themes in government, literature, architecture, economics, art and history.
The Tweed Academy — named for William Marcy Tweed, the notorious 19th-century political boss — will open this spring in the ground floor of the courthouse, which recently became the Department of Education headquarters. Evenings and weekends, the space will be used for teacher training and programs for the public, including a lecture series and adult literacy classes.
"The Tweed Academy will powerfully symbolize the high priority that the city government puts on education for all our students," Mr. Bloomberg said at Tweed, where the ground floor is still under renovation. "It will send the message that in New York City, academic excellence is available to all who seek it."
Mr. Bloomberg was speaking somewhat metaphorically, as the chances of all 1.1 million city schoolchildren spending time in the opulent Tweed building are virtually nil. Elementary and middle school students will come for two-week "academic residencies," and the building can accommodate about 200 children per session, education officials said.
At that rate, about 3,600 students can visit each year, plus about 4,000 high school students who will come for after-school and weekend academic programs.
Diana Lam, the deputy schools chancellor for teaching and learning, said that only third graders would visit Tweed Academy this spring, as the program gets off the ground. Third and seventh graders will come next fall, and other grades may eventually be added, she said.
But while most students will never set foot in Tweed, Seymour Fliegel, a former deputy superintendent in East Harlem who is now president of the Center for Educational Innovation-Public Education Association, said the opportunity could prove valuable for those who get it.
"I assume that they will have some of the best teachers in the system working there," Mr. Fliegel said. "Say a kid is in a lousy class, in a really terrible school. If you spend two weeks down there, then at least you've got two weeks of what learning should really be about."
Ms. Lam and her aides are devising lesson plans, as well as a system for deciding which students come when.
"We have designed a school-day program that will focus on literacy and will use our rich landscape of New York City as its primary text," Ms. Lam said. "It will take over two years to ensure that every single school in the city of New York will have sent students here for some type of activity."
Ms. Lam said that lessons at Tweed Academy would be interdisciplinary, so that students might study mathematics, physics and architecture for a unit on the Brooklyn Bridge. She plans to bring in a staff of teachers to work at Tweed full time.
Mr. Bloomberg, who unveiled his plans a day after ordering a citywide hiring freeze and a new round of budget cuts, said it would cost $7.5 million to transform the ground floor of Tweed into classrooms and a cafeteria. That expense comes on top of a $100 million renovation of the entire building, most of which was carried out by the Giuliani administration.
Aides to Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said that other expenses would include transporting students to Tweed each day, teacher salaries, meals and supplies. They did not provide a cost estimate.
Historic preservationists have complained about Mr. Bloomberg's decision to use Tweed as the school system headquarters, and hoped that city building codes would foil his plan to turn the ground floor into a school. But Mr. Bloomberg said that nothing done at Tweed Academy would threaten the building's historic details.
"Anybody who's seen what we've done with this building in terms of historic preservation should be thrilled," the mayor said yesterday.
The mayor rolled his eyes and cast a withering look at a reporter who asked about the possibility of schoolchildren vandalizing or otherwise damaging the Tweed building.
"I think that that's the responsibility of the principals, teachers, administrators, to make sure that a handful of bad apples don't destroy the beauty for everybody and don't take away the opportunity for everybody."
Henry Stern, the former parks commissioner and one of the most outspoken critics of Mr. Bloomberg's use of the Tweed building, had a new gripe yesterday: Why name the learning center after Boss Tweed, who was known more for corruption than for intellectual rigor?
"To name an educational facility for children to honor the greatest thief in 350 years of city government is a decision which exalts celebrity over integrity," Mr. Stern said in a statement he sent to reporters. "I urge that it be reconsidered."
Copyright The New York Times Company
Could anyone tell me what/who occupied the first floor of Tweed Courthouse before the Department of Education? Were there other schools there before the school(s) displaced by City Hall Academy?
No other schools. A multi-year restoration of the building started in 1999. Before that, assorted city offices ...
... The county courts moved out in 1929, and the Tweed building served as a city courthouse until 1961. After that, it was used as a municipal office building ...
From somebody who worked there ...
... for decades after Tweed’s demise the state legislature busied itself dividing up the functions of the city’s government, in an effort to ensure that no man could gain such absolute power again. Meanwhile, the house that Tweed built moldered under an air of disgrace. It was patched up and put to work as a court until 1926, but after that much of it lay empty, and there were repeated proposals in the 1940s and ’50s to tear it down altogether.
By 1987, when I worked there, it had been divided into warren-like offices, covered with linoleum tiles and furnished with classic, bureaucratic metal desks and filing cabinets. Time had done nothing to wipe away the dirt and grime of Tweed’s era, and in the men’s room I often spied the antennae of a gigantic cockroach, longer than my fingers, poking out from behind a urinal. I liked to fancy that the creature was a reincarnation of the Boss himself, putting out feelers to pick up the prevailing political winds.
I combed the New York Times archives and missed that piece (and the Kevin Baker site). Thank you!