Mayor Bloomberg appoints Cathie Black, as Joel Klein steps down
State Education Commissioner David Steiner is poised to grant a waiver allowing publishing executive Cathie Black to become New York City Schools Chancellor, following a deal to appoint an experienced city educator as her second-in-command.
In a ten-page letter to Steiner on Friday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg amended his request to give Black a waiver from rules requiring her to have specific education credentials. The letter said Black had decided to elevate a deputy chancellor, Shael Polakow Suransky, to a new position called Senior Deputy Chancellor and Chief Academic Advisor.
Bloomberg's letter said it was Black's decision to create this position and that this appointment reflects her commitment to a leadership principle of empowering those around you, much like Bloomberg. "She understands the role of a leader is not to micro-manage every division but to hire the best people, give them the room they need to innovate and hold them accountable for success," he wrote.
The mayor had nominated Black to run the city school system on November 9th, in a surprise move that was highly criticized by politicians, parents and teachers who said the job should have been given to an educator. Outgoing chancellor Joel Klein was an attorney who led the U.S. Justice Department's anti-trust division before his appointment in 2002, but he taught briefly in the city schools and attended public schools growing up in Queens. Black has 40 years experience in publishing, most recently as chairman of Hearst Magazines, but she has no advanced degrees or experience working in education. She attended parochial schools and her children attended a private boarding school.
The mayor argued that Black was a "world class manager" who was the right person to lead the system of 135,000 employees, more than a million students, and a $23 billion budget during a time of fiscal stress. He also argued that she would be surrounded by deputies who understood education policy and he mounted a public campaign to rally support for Black from the business community and politicians including three former mayors.
But on Tuesday, an advisory panel rejected the mayor's request for Black's waiver. Education Commissioner David Steiner suggested he would be open to the request if it was revised to include a Chief Academic Officer type of position, to be held by an educator with some degree of autonomy. The commissioner and the mayor then apparently spent the next few days discussing this request and the mayor conceded. Steiner is expected to grant a waiver for Black on Monday, according to a high-level source.
Bloomberg's letter says Polakow-Suranksy will report directly to Black and oversee "all pedagogic matters." According to the letter, he will oversee the implementation of major educational policies including curriculum, education reform and staff development, academic testing and evaluation, and compliance with legislative and judicial mandates.
Polakow-Suransky, 38, has worked in the school system for over a decade. He was a teacher and also started an international school in the Bronx before moving on to the central administration where he led the effort to open new high schools. He is currently the deputy chancellor in charge of accountability - the unit responsible for creating A-F letter grades for schools based largely on student performance.
Officials from the State Department of Education did not return calls seeking comment. A spokesman for United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew says the union looks forward to working with Black and Polakow-Suransky. Critics of Black's appointment however, including Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and the parent group Class Size Matters, said they still believe Black doesn't deserve the waiver if it's based on pairing her with an educator and suggested they would explore the legality of the arrangement.
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.
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