Joel I. Klein became New York City schools chancellor in July 2002 after serving in the highest levels of government and business. As Chancellor, he oversees more than 1,500 schools with 1.1 million students, 136,000 employees, and a $21-billion operating budget.
Mr. Klein’s comprehensive education reform program, Children First, is transforming the nation's largest public school system into a system of great schools.
Before Mr. Klein became Chancellor, he was chairman and chief executive officer of Bertelsmann, Inc., and chief U.S. liaison officer to Bertelsmann AG from January 2001 to July 2002. Bertelsmann, one of the world’s largest media companies, has annual revenues exceeding $20 billion and employs more than 76,000 people in 54 countries.
From 1997 to 2001, Mr. Klein was assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division. Serving one of the longest tenures ever as head of the 700-lawyer division, Klein led landmark cases against Microsoft, WorldCom/Sprint, Visa/Mastercard, and General Electric, prevailing in a large majority of cases. Mr. Klein was widely credited with transforming the antitrust division into one of the Clinton Administration’s greatest successes. He also served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and as the antitrust division’s principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. His appointment to the U.S. Justice Department came after Klein served two years (1993-95) as deputy counsel to President William J. Clinton.
Question: Where are you from?
Joel Klein: I was actually born in the Bronx right after the Second World War. My father had just come back from the war and married my mother. Then, before I remember, we moved to Brooklyn, right across the street from my mother’s parents. And when I was about seven or eight, we moved to Queens, which is really where I consider having grown up.
I grew up in public housing in Queens, and grew up in the streets of New York. I always like to think of myself as a kid from the streets, and education changed my life.
My father had dropped out of high school in the 10th grade during the great depression. My mother graduated from high school and never went to college.
But education in Astoria really changed my life. I like to describe it that basically I stood on the shoulders of teachers to see a world that I couldn’t have seen growing up in the family that I grew up in.
Recorded on: March 30, 2008