Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

April 7, 2011

Corporate “Super Star” Out As Head of New York Public Schools

Filed under: Mayoral Control — millerlf @ 1:04 pm

Cathleen Black Is Out as New York City Schools Chancellor


Cathleen P. Black, a magazine executive with no educational experience who was named New York City schools chancellor last fall, stepped down Thursday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced.

Mr. Bloomberg called Ms. Black into his office Thursday morning and urged her to resign, officials said, ending a tumultuous and brief tenure for the longtime publisher. Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference that he and Ms. Black had agreed that a change was required.

Ms. Black’s resignation, which comes on the heels of the departures of several other high-ranking education officials, was nearly as surprising as her appointment. When Mayor Bloomberg plucked her from Hearst Magazines to run the nation’s largest public school system, people in New York and across the country — including some of the mayor’s closest aides — were stunned.

Ms. Black will be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott, who has long aided the mayor in educational matters, Mr. Bloomberg announced at the news conference, at 11:30 a.m. at City Hall.

“I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped or expected,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “But now it’s time to look forward, not back.”

Ms. Black’s time as chancellor was troubled from the start. During her three months on the job, she offended parents with an offhand joke about birth control and bewildered City Hall aides when she seemed to mock a crowd of parents protesting the closing of a school. Aides complained that she required intensive tutorials on every aspect of education policy. And on Monday, a NY1-Marist poll put Ms. Black’s approval rating at 17 percent, the lowest ever for a Bloomberg administration official.

Inside City Hall, mayoral advisers said, there was a growing sense that Ms. Black could no longer do the job. Mr. Bloomberg is famously reluctant to dismiss members of his handpicked team. But even he agreed it was time for Ms. Black to go, they said.

At the news conference, Mr. Bloomberg said he and Ms. Black had agreed that news about her handling of the school system had become overly distracting.

“Cathie and I decided that it would be better to have somebody else lead our education efforts,” he said. “We both agreed the story had really become about her and away from the kids, and that’s not good. We’ve got to focus on what’s good for the kids.”

Mr. Bloomberg praised Ms. Black, saying she had done “an admirable job pitching herself into the work” and that he had “nothing but respect and admiration for her and the work she has done.” Asked whether he blamed the news media for its coverage of her, he demurred, saying, “It is what it is.”

Mr. Walcott appeared at the news conference announcing the change, but Ms. Black did not.

Ms. Black’s resignation is a stinging setback for Mr. Bloomberg, who has made education a priority for his third and final term. It was also the latest sign of trouble inside an administration renowned for top-notch managers and high-function style.

In many ways, the episode seemed to confirm anxieties within City Hall about a third term, which has proved problematic for previous mayors.

When Mr. Bloomberg abruptly announced in November that Joel I. Klein, a former federal prosecutor who had spent more than eight years as chancellor, would be replaced by Ms. Black, he dismissed criticism that she was unqualified. “This is a woman who is eminently qualified,” he said.

But on Thursday, the mayor ticked off Mr. Walcott’s connections to the school system. Like Mr. Klein, he attended city public schools, and has spent years as a public servant. Mr. Walcott taught kindergarten for two years in Queens, Mr. Bloomberg said, and holds master’s degrees in education and in social work. Mr. Walcott also headed the Urban League for a dozen years, where he helped develop programs to prevent students from dropping out, the mayor said.

“For the past nine years, Dennis has been a key part of all our education reform issues,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “He has been involved in our schools at every level, as a student, as a teacher, as a parent and as a deputy mayor. His children, you should know, went to our public schools, and he has a grandson now in public schools. So I think there is no better person qualified to step into the job of chancellor at this point.”

Jennifer Freeman, an Upper West Side parent leader who had been one of many to balk at Ms. Black’s lack of credentials, said, “I guess zero was not the optimal amount of education experience for a chancellor, after all.” She added: “While I am sure there will be many things to disagree with Walcott about, at least there will be a substantive base from which to have a discussion.”

Mr. Klein, in a statement, said Mr. Walcott was a “superb selection” who “knows the field of education” and is “a fighter for kids.”

City Councilman Lewis A. Fidler, who represents Brooklyn, said Ms. Black’s tenure “was bad from the beginning,” adding, “It wasn’t properly vetted; it wasn’t properly thought out.”

Ms. Black, he said, “didn’t have either a unique qualification in education or a unique ability as a communicator in the public sphere.”


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