Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
Schools Chancellor Cathie Black Gets Booed at First Public Hearing
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The city's new Schools Chancellor, Cathie Black, was booed and heckled during her first appearance at a public meeting held by the Panel on Educational Policy Wednesday night.
Black, who recently made headlines for her crack about using birth control to curb school overcrowding, and the other 13 members of the panel made up of mostly mayoral appointees were often heckled at the monthly meeting. Dozens of students and teachers who opposed the proposal to allow a selective new high school to open in the same Park Slope building shared by three other schools attended.
"There is no way we can afford to lose our brightest teachers," Black said over a chorus of boos after she brought up the elimination of thousands of teachers because of Bloomberg's impending budget cutbacks. She also echoed the mayor's call to end the state law requiring new teachers to be the first to go during layoffs.
Panel member Patrick Sullivan, appointed by the Manhattan borough president, was a vocal critic of Black and asked her Wednesday night to look into the shrinking number of city students who are finalists this year in a prestigious national science competition. He blamed it on focusing on a "drill and kill" method.
Black, staring straight ahead, did not look at Sullivan.
"Mr. Cunningham we appreciate your concern and we're all concerned," she said, apparently without realizing she had gotten his name wrong.
Speakers, lining up at the two microphones in the auditorium of Brooklyn Tech, lambasted the department's proposal to open a selective new branch of Millennium High School in the former campus of John Jay High School in Park Slope. Three other schools are currently sharing the space and their students and teachers were furious about having a new neighbor.
Demar Ayee, 17, of the Secondary School for Research at John Jay, carried a sign saying "Integrate Don't Segregate." He said he worried an academically competitive school would bring different kids into his building.
"There are going to be a lot of white and Asian students that are going to come into this school and then they're going to get the money that we always needed," he said, adding that he wants those students to be integrated among the existing schools in the building.
Department of education officials assured the audience that the new school would give priority to students from all over Brooklyn, and that another Millennium campus in Lower Manhattan is only one-third white. They noted that too many Brooklyn families are sending their children to high schools in other boroughs.
But students chanted and shouted, and a boy called the proposal "just another form of racism." Earlier in the night, Khem Irby, a parent who sits on the Community Education Council for District 13 in Brooklyn, led the crowd in "This Little School of Mine" (to the tune of "This Little Light of Mine") and then threw a bunch of condoms into the air, a reference to Black's joke about birth control for which she has since apologized
The long evening was a preview for what Black will see on February 1 and 3, when the panel votes on plans to close 25 low-performing schools. Many speakers were from those schools - which include Jamaica High and the Monroe Academy - and they urged the new chancellor to visit their schools.