Huffpost New York

Cathie Black OUT As Schools Chancellor

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CATHIE BLACK

Cathie Black is out as New York City Public Schools chancellor. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will take over.

In a press conference on Thursday, Bloomberg said Black's tenure had not gone as planned.

"I take full responsibility for the fact that this hasn’t worked out as expected," Bloomberg said. "The story had become about her and away from the kids.”

Bloomberg praised incoming chancellor Walcott and noted that his family has been attending city public schools for generations. Walcott has a master's degree in education.

Black was not at the press conference and Bloomberg declined to answer questions about the timing of her departure or about Black herself.

The news comes shortly after Deputy Chancellor John White quit. He was the second deputy chancellor to step down this week and the fourth since Cathie Black took over in the fall.

The former Hearst executive's popularity was at an all time low, according to a NY1-Marist poll released this week which showed just 17 percent of New Yorkers approve of her job performance.

She has been booed at several events, including meetings where Department of Education panels voted to close schools.

Black landed in hot water in January when she jokingly suggested that birth control could be a solution for school overcrowding in Lower Manhattan.

When Bloomberg appointed her as chancellor, Black immediately came under criticism for her lack of education experience.

She had to get a waiver from the state's education commissioner before she officially took over last year.

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As Prospect Heights Patch reports, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries has welcomed Cathie Black's resignation. In December, Jeffries and 12 other parents brought a lawsuit against the city calling for Black's removal.

"The resignation of Cathie Black represents and extraordinary public acknowledgement by City Hall that her appointment did not serve the best interest of our public school children,” he said in a statement released this afternoon.

“This administration has had several public policy successes but has often been reluctant to admit failures. … The departure of Cathie Black creates an opportunity for the DOE to move in a different direction,” he added.

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Former United States Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch weighed in on Cathie Black's resignation as chancellor of the New York City schools, saying the turmoil in New York should serve as an example for education reformers elsewhere.

"The lesson here is that she was just out of her league," Ravitch told The Huffington Post. She said Black's success as a publishing executive didn't prepare her for a leading role in education. "In the business world, there’s an assumption if you can sell soap, you can sell automobiles," Ravitch said. "That doesn’t transfer to education."

According to Ravitch, Black's departure is not surprising. "All kinds of friends were betting she wouldn’t last until Easter," she said. "I thought she was crazy to take the job."

Ravitch said Black's short tenure is a lesson for those engaged in education reform nationwide. "The lesson ought to be that school superintendents ought to be educators and not business managers," she said.

Ravitch, an outspoken critic of charter schools, noted, "What happens in New York always has repercussions elsewhere."

Ravitch lamented Mayor Bloomberg's reform plan for the public schools, including the city's federal Race To The Top Grant. "We’re trying to subject education to business rules," she said. "Education is not a business."

Joy Resmovits and Simone Landon contributed to this report.

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Education blog Gotham Schools writes on Twitter (@gothamschools):

"Until Dennis Walcott is confirmed, Shael Polakow-Suransky is acting chancellor."

Polakow-Suransky is the deputy chancellor and was appointed to assist Black with policy issues.

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The New York Post is reporting New York's state education commissioner David Steiner could also get the axe soon.

The rumor comes from State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who told WNYC "the commissioner is exploring other options."

Steiner granted the waiver necessary to instate Cathie Black as the New York City schools chief, even after a commission recommended he deny her the post.

UPDATE: Sources say an upcoming statement from the New York State Department of Education will confirm Steiner's departure.

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If approved by the state's education commissioner, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will take over as the New York City public schools chief. At a press conference at Tweed Courthouse, Walcott said he was happy to take over from outgoing Chancellor Cathie Black.

He thanked Black for her three-month stint, saying she is "a very jazzy person." Walcott added that the transition will happen "in whatever way Cathie wants to. I value what Cathie represents," he said.

Regarding Black's tumultuous tenure, Walcott deferred to Mayor Bloomberg's decision to appoint her as chancellor. "We always learn lessons," Walcott said, "but really the mayor made a selection, and I'm very comfortable, quite frankly, with the selection."

Walcott also spoke to the issue of mayoral control over the public school system. "We fought for control because in the past it was a dysfunctional system," he said.

He stressed that going forward, the administration's education policies "will be basically the same."

Those unchanged policies include promoting charter schools. "I wish I had the option [of school choice] when my children were attending public schools that we have today," Walcott said.

When it comes to student performance, he added he plans to be "visible" in closing the achievement gap.

Joy Resmovits has a full report on Walcott's speech here.

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The New York Observer's Azi Paybarah notes Walcott has been with Bloomberg from the beginning of the mayor's first term. Paybarah says Walcott has "guided the administration's education policy" for years:

What exactly will change at the nation's largest public school system with Walcott's appointment?

According to the chairman of the New York City Council's Education Committee, Robert Jackson, not much.

"I'm pleased with the appointment of Dennis Walcott," said Jackson, who quickly added, "whoever serves, no matter who they are, is going to be doing the mayor's bidding. If not, they wouldn't be in place."

Indeed, Walcott has been an instrumental in shaping the administration's education policy (expanding charter schools, ending social promotion, etc.).

Walcott stands "wherever the mayor stands," said Jackson. "What changes is you have someone, who, in my opinion, listens a lot more" and "someone who has been through the same type of experiences that parents have gone through themselves."

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Adam Lisberg at the New York Daily News reports the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn borough presidents are each pleased with the decision to replace Cathie Black with Dennis Walcott:

Here's Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., not gloating:

"During her time as chancellor, Cathie Black and I had a good working relationship, and I wish her well. I have known Dennis Walcott for years, and I welcome him as chancellor of the Department of Education. Mr. Walcott has always been attentive and accessible, and he understands the issues facing our public schools. I look forward to working with him to address these issues, which affect the 1.1 million children in our city who depend on our schools."

Here's Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, gloating:

“It’s not easy for a mayor to change course in such a big way when things are not working, and I want to commend Mayor Bloomberg for stepping up and recognizing this. It’s been clear for months now that, like the Titanic, this ship has been sinking with more than one million school children on board. I look forward to working with Dennis Walcott and wish him the best as he tries to right this ship. I hope that he will be a chancellor who truly listens to parents and educators as he takes on this enormous task."

And here's Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, ignoring Black for Walcott:

“I join all of Brooklyn and our borough’s 300,000 public school students and their families in wholeheartedly welcoming Dennis Walcott—a proud son of New York City and product of the public school system, educator and, perhaps most importantly, parent and grandparent—as New York City Schools Chancellor. Deputy Mayor Walcott has been actively involved in the city’s education community, and was instrumental in enacting many of the recent positive reforms. His expertise will help stabilize the system and move it forward. I spoke with Deputy Mayor Walcott this morning and pledged to support him in every way possible, and we are excited to work together as we help our children reach the zenith of their potential.”

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Mayor Bloomberg said it was "in the city's best interest" for Black to step down after just three months on the job. "It hasn't worked out as either of us hoped and expected," said Bloomberg, adding, "It's now time to look forward and not back." He confimed that Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will take over.

Walcott figures in stark contrast to Black, whose Park Avenue address encouraged public perception that she was an elite outsider, ill-equipped to lead the city's public school system of 1.1 million students.

"I'm just a guy from Queens, I'm just a city guy," offered Walcott at the press conference. He said his family has been educated in the city's public schools for four generations.

Walcott, Bloomberg's current deputy mayor for education, has long been a trusted aide on education policy. He formerly taught kindergarten and was C.E.O. and president of the New York Urban League. He attended the city's public schools and graduated from Francis Lewis High School in Queens. Walcott has two master's degrees -- one in education from the University of Bridgeport and another in social work from Fordham University.

But just like his predecessor, Walcott's tenure as new schools chief requires a waiver by the state education commissioner, David Steiner. Bloomberg said he was hopeful he could quickly secure the waiver.

Some bloggers are already talking about denying Walcott's waiver.

Amanda M. Fairbanks contributed to this report.

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Huffington Post New York Editor-At-Large Dan Collins writes:

Cathie Black was Mayor Bloomberg's disaster -- one of a long line he's perpetrated since being elected to a third term. The fact that the mayor picked someone to run the schools who had no experience in education or, perhaps more critically, New York politics, was astonishing. The mayor is genuinely devoted to the public schools. He built his political career around improving them.

And then, out of some whim we may never really understand, he plopped them in the lap of a publishing executive who was looking for a way to re-start a shaky career, whose only real qualification was that she hung around in the same crowd as the mayor.

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Kenneth Wong, chair of Brown University's education department, told The Huffington Post that Mayor Bloomberg is in damage control mode.

"It looks like he’s trying to contain the adverse effects by hiring Dennis [Walcott]," Wong said. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott has a master's degree in education and might be considered a foil to Black, a former publishing executive whose appointment some decried as a manifestation of a new wave of education reform driven by CEOs, not teachers.

Bloomberg is "trying to get someone with a proven record to put the system back on track," Wong said.

Between Black's resignation and Deputy School Chancellor John White's departure to head education in New Orleans, the mayor's education team is in turmoil.

"This is probably the most critical period for Mayor Bloomberg," Wong said. "There is already a lot of discontent and public questioning and public concerns about stability of the leadership."

He added, "The mayor really needs to get education back on track and to focus on the goals of the reforms in a fiscally constrained environment. The important thing for him is to communicate, to take Walcott to visit as many schools as possible. His new team now has to fix any unanticipated instability."

In other words, Bloomberg needs to make sure the school buses are running on time before he can worry about other things -- like long-term achievement strategies.

Joy Resmovits contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press reports:

Bloomberg says he takes full responsibility for Black's appointment not being successful.

Bloomberg's appointment of the former media executive has proven to be one of the deepest embarrassments of his administration.

Black had no previous experience in education, and her appointment was a surprise even to some officials within the administration.

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From the deputy mayor's city bio:

As a kindergarten teacher in the childcare center where he began his career, Mr. Walcott recognized the need for a male role model in many of the children's lives, and in 1975, he founded the Frederick Douglass Brother-to-Brother program, a mentoring program for young boys. Before joining the Bloomberg Administration in 2002, he was the President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Urban League where for more than 12 years he expanded educational and youth service programs including Jeter's Leaders and Bridge to Brotherhood programs, Healthy Start, Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership, and the 140th Street Building Block Program. He was previously the Executive Director of the Harlem Dowling Westside Center where he expanded services to children and families.

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Mayor Bloomberg says in a press conference that he and Cathie Black "mutually agreed" on her departure Thursday morning. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott will take over. "No one" knows more about the NYC school system and the challenges it faces than Walcott, Bloomberg says. Walcott is a Queens native and graduate of NYC public schools.

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