Dennis Walcott Named CEO of Queens Library

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was named president and CEO of Queens Library (QL) on March 1. Walcott, a native of Queens, was selected by the board after a six-month national search. He succeeds Bridget Quinn-Carey, who has served as interim president and CEO since former QL president Thomas W. Galante was placed on administrative leave and then fired in December 2014 for alleged misconduct and mismanagement of library funds. Quinn-Carey will return to her prior role as QL executive vice president and COO. Assuming Walcott’s appointment is approved by the New York State Department of Education (DOE), he will assume his duties at QL on March 14. Although he is not a librarian, Walcott’s career has been devoted to education and social services, serving high-level administrative roles in New York City’s government and community organizations.
Dennis Walcott Photo credit: Elbert Garcia

Photo credit: Elbert Garcia

Former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was named president and CEO of Queens Library (QL) on March 1. Walcott, a native of Queens, was selected by the board after a six-month national search. He succeeds Bridget Quinn-Carey, who has served as interim president and CEO since former QL president Thomas W. Galante was placed on administrative leave and then fired in December 2014 for alleged misconduct and mismanagement of library funds. Quinn-Carey was named CEO of the Hartford Public Library, CT, on March 4, and is expected to start on April 11. Assuming Walcott’s appointment is approved by the New York State Department of Education (DOE), he will assume his duties at QL on March 14. Although he is not a librarian, Walcott’s career has been devoted to education and social services, serving high-level administrative roles in New York City’s government and community organizations.

QUEENS NATIVE

Walcott, the grandson of immigrants from the Caribbean, grew up in southeast Queens and attended Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows. After earning a bachelor’s in sociology and master’s degree in education from the University of Bridgeport, CT, in 1974, Walcott taught at the Jamaica, Queens–based pre–K Amistad Child Care and Family Center. He left Amistad in 1975 to found the Frederick Douglass Brother-to-Brother mentoring program, and later, while studying for a master’s degree in social work at Fordham University, which he earned in 1980, Walcott worked for the Spence-Chapin adoption agency, placing children in foster homes, and the Greater New York Fund/United Way, providing grants to community organizations, according to a 2001 profile in the New York Times. He was appointed executive director of Harlem Dowling West Side Center for Children and Family Services, a child welfare agency, in 1985. Beginning in 1990, Walcott served for 12 years as president of the New York Urban League, a nonpartisan civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to helping minorities achieve academic success. During his tenure he expanded the Urban League’s educational and youth programs across the city, forging partnerships with New York City schools, the United Federation of Teachers, and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. Walcott served on the New York City Board of Education from 1993 to 1994, spanning parts of the mayoral administrations of David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani, later serving as a trustee and chair of New York’s Community School Board in District 5 and joining a task force to study New York City governance policies. In 2002, he was appointed deputy mayor for policy by Michael Bloomberg and tasked with managing negotiations with the city’s Board of Education and teachers union during a decade-long overhaul of the city’s school system; he became deputy mayor for education and community development in 2006. In 2011, Walcott was appointed Chancellor of the New York DOE, succeeding Cathie Black, who stepped down from the position after only three months. He served through the end of Bloomberg’s third term in 2013. In 2015 Walcott was assigned by the New York State Assembly to review budgetary and academic issues at the East Ramapo Central School District, NY. At the time the school board of the Rockland County community, located some 30 miles north of New York City, was largely controlled by Orthodox Jewish families whose children attended private religious schools, and who were perceived as not representing the largely black and Latino community. The three-member panel headed by Walcott eventually recommended that the state appoint a committee with veto power to oversee the school board.

DOE, LIBRARIAN CONCERNS

Walcott’s lack of library science degree is unlikely to be an obstacle to his appointment; Galante earned his MLIS from Queens College in 2003, while he was serving as QL interim director. At the time of his appointment as schools chancellor, Walcott lacked the required school district leadership credentials for the position, and was granted a waiver by state education commissioner David M. Steiner. In his decision letter, Steiner stated, “[Walcott] has an impressive record of building coalitions and developing relationships with the community and key stakeholders.… I find that Mr. Walcott’s exceptional record of successfully leading complex organizations, his deep knowledge of the New York City school district and the issues and challenges it faces, and the leadership qualities he manifests, warrant certification for service.” In a December 7, 2015 speech to students at Fordham, where he teaches a course in his alma mater’s new Masters in Nonprofit Leadership program, Walcott discussed his earliest experiences with the Brother-to-Brother program, offering his perspective on non-profit fundraising and management, according to coverage of the presentation in Fordham News. “You need to know when to say ‘no,’” he said. “If you’re totally dependent on government grants, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. That’s how a lot of agencies collapse…. You have to anticipate that bullish times don’t last and you’re going to have to deal with a recession at some point. You should operate from a very lean point of view and make sure you’re able to carry out the purpose of each grant.” Since QL was named LJ’s 2009 Library of the Year, the system has rebounded from extensive budget cuts under the Bloomberg administration to share in a citywide funding increase in FY16 under Quinn-Carey’s leadership. This included $6 million for capital improvements, $15.7 million from City Council, and another $14 million allocated by Katz. In addition to QL’s capital allocations, $12 million was dedicated for operating services, which has allowed the system to hire staff, purchase additional materials, and provide six-day service. Along with the expanded resources, hopes are high for Walcott’s leadership at QL. “We are confident that Dennis Walcott has exactly the right skills and depth of experience to lead the Library through the challenging years ahead,” said board chair Carl S. Koerner and vice chair Judith Bergtraum, who served as chair of the board’s search committee, in a statement from QL. However, some take issue with the fate of libraries in New York City schools under Walcott’s tenure. In August 2013, in light of already dwindling numbers of school librarians across the city, the DOE requested that the New York State Education Department (NYSED) waive the state minimum staffing requirements for certified school library media specialists in public middle and high schools. As an alternative the DOE proposed classroom libraries, which hold a limited number of books targeted to a narrow age range. New York librarians and library advocates, including the American Association of School Librarians and Urban Librarians Unite, rallied in protest at DOE headquarters in lower Manhattan. The request was eventually ruled on by State Education Commissioner John King and denied. “[That prior history] indicates a lack of understanding of the impact on student achievement and love of reading when school libraries are fully staffed with adequate resources and a strong program,” New York Library Association president Sara Kelly Johns told LJ. “It is disappointing that Queens does not have a leader who has an immediate understanding of the power of what Queens does and the value of the best resource the library has, its librarians, and staff. Dr. Walcott has a huge learning curve ahead and my hope is that he grows into the position very quickly.”

STEADY HAND, HIGH HOPES

Still, many feel that Walcott will run the library with a steady hand, and an insider’s knowledge of working with the city administration. “At its core, the Queens Library exists to serve its educational purpose as a community hub of learning, literacy and culture for millions of families,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in a press release. “Queens is grateful to the Board of Trustees for their dedication in convening an extensive search and selection process for the new President and CEO. I have full faith in the direction and future of the Library, and look forward to the great things to come under Dennis’s leadership.” "We are excited to welcome dear friend and former Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to the world of New York City's public libraries," said New York Public Library President Tony Marx. "His areas of expertise are a perfect fit, as libraries increasingly focus on addressing the city's educational and early literacy needs. We look forward to working alongside him, and congratulate Queens Library on this new chapter." “We're excited to welcome Dennis Walcott, long a friend to New York City’s libraries and an accomplished public servant, to his new post as CEO of Queens Library," said Linda E. Johnson, president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library. "At a critical time for libraries, Dennis’s leadership will help the city’s three systems continue to provide New Yorkers with the innovative programs and wide-ranging collections they deserve.” Johns was hopeful as well. “The value of any library is the people who work there,” she told LJ. “I hope he truly understands the value of the people that work for him.” “I look forward to working with all the fantastic, creative, dynamic staff and friends and visiting every community library, meeting and listening to their ideas and participating in initiatives that make life better and richer for their neighborhoods,” Walcott said in a press statement on March 1. “I have been a lifelong patron of the Queens Library and wholeheartedly believe in the mission of this great institution.”
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Mary Lee Adison

I am a senior now, and was glad to recite my poetry on rape and domestic violence in your library auditorium. My books were published 1997. I was blessed to read from my book,"I'm Not finished yet, by Vantage Press Publishing Company," no longer in business. I thank the library for giving me the opportunity. Mary Lee Adison mlapoet1@gmail.com. p.s. I am also most grateful and given the pleasure to read from my book at Forest Hills Barnes & Noble in the 90's. Peace, grace and love. Mary Lee Adison

Posted : Jul 14, 2016 03:06


Christine Beihoff

Why has the Queens Mobile Wifi Hotspot program been discontinued? Is Mr. Walcott aware that the library website has not yet been updated to inform patrons of this recent program change/discontinuation? Just out of curiosity: Was the HotSpot program initially offered via a grant, via the city's budget, on a trial basis, or via a corporate/company sponsorship opportunity (e.g. similar to how Citibank sponsored the bicycle sharing system)? Does the city have any immediate plans to re-instate and/or expand the Hotspot device (borrowing) program? All in all, as a young professional who recently moved to Queens to become a more active member of my (new) community, I am disheartened to see that such a potentially amazing (and probably well-liked!) program has already been discontinued; more importantly, not only was I disheartened to discover that the library staff members seemed to have been unaware of the cessation of the program, but that the library website continues to advertise incorrect information about the program. Please share this information with Mr.Walcott. Also, please let him know that young professionals (especially teachers -- who give so much of themselves to their students and communities) really count on such local programs. Please pass the word that local young professionals would like for the city to consider reinstating AND expanding the Wifi HotSpot Device borrowing program in the coming years. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Posted : Apr 06, 2016 02:23


RELATED 

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.

Get access to 8000+ annual reviews of books, ebooks, and more

As low as $13.50/month