Photo: Charles Quigg '09
Joel I. Klein
Doctor of Humane Letters
Joel I. Klein is head of the nation’s largest public school system. As chancellor of the New York City schools, a post he has held since 2002, he oversees more than 1,450 schools with 1.1 million students, 136,000 employees and a $15-billion operating budget.
Klein’s interest in education is longstanding. The son of a postman, he was educated in the public schools of Queens and then at Columbia University. During a leave of absence from Harvard Law School in 1969, he studied at New York University’s School of Education, and he later taught math to sixth graders in Queens. He has also taught at Georgetown University Law Center.
As chancellor, Klein is faced with a school system with enormous challenges related to funding, teacher morale, academic achievement, school conditions and safety. But in making the appointment, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg believed he was naming a man who was up to the task: Bloomberg described Klein as “a true leader who never shies away from the tough and sometimes controversial decisions that are necessary to implement change.”
Klein’s comprehensive reform program, called Children First, introduced a number of innovative strategies: the end of “social promotion”; the creation of academic support for students, including the Summer Success Academy; the creation of new services for parents; and the launch of an initiative to improve school safety. Under Klein’s leadership, student performance has improved, school safety has increased, and educators are receiving additional autonomy while still being held accountable for progress.
Before becoming chancellor, Klein was chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., one of the world’s largest media companies. Previously, he had been the Clinton administration’s assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, where he prosecuted a number of landmark cases, including one against Microsoft.
Earlier, Klein had worked for 20 years as an attorney in Washington, D.C., conducting public interest law and later starting his own firm, which focused on health care and constitutional litigation. Active in community service, he has served on the boards of a number of nonprofit organizations, including the World Federation for Mental Health and the National Symphony Orchestra.