Opponents of Cathie Black Consider Legal Action

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg's decision to accept a compromise proposed by State Education Commissioner David Steiner means publishing executive Cathie Black is expected to receive the waiver she needs to become schools chancellor Monday. Black lacks the right education credentials for the job and Bloomberg has argued, unsuccessfully, that her management experience at Hearst Magazines and USA Today make her exceptionally qualified for the position.

Education Commissioner Steiner's decision to grant the waiver is based on Black's decision to elevate deputy chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky to the post of Chief Academic Officer. Polakow-Suransky has a masters degree in education from Bank Street College, and has spent 15 years in the school system as a teacher, principal and most recently as a deputy chancellor in charge of the A-F rating system for the city's schools.

One group of opponents says the proposal does nothing to change the fact that Black has no education experience, and threaten to take the matter to court. Carmen Applewhite is a teacher and member of the Coalition for Public Education and was angered by the plan.

"If you go for surgery and the administrator of the hospital tells you that the doctor never went to medical school but he got a waiver, but we're going to get someone to stand in the operating room and read a manual while he cuts you open, I don't think anybody would accept that," said Applewhite. "That's what you're asking us to accept."

She was joined by others on the steps of Tweed Courthouse, the headquarters of the Department of Education, who say they've found no legal precedent for the arrangement between Steiner and Bloomberg.

"What we will do in the days to come is take a look to see whether or not this situation has arisen, anywhere in any of the other 49 states," said civil rights attorney Norman Siegel. "And then, and only then, once we have a comprehensive understanding of the issues, will we make the strategic decision of whether to go to court or not."

Department of Education spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz wouldn't comment on the legal questions raised by the parents and politicians, but said, "It's time to put politics aside and recognize that it's in all our kids' interest for Cathie Black to succeed as our next Chancellor."

Elsewhere in the city, some residents following the story said the arrangment would result in a confused chain of command.

"I think having co-chancellors is not a good idea," said Tom Keenan, standing outside his Sunnyside home, "simply because having a school district of this size, trying to manage it with two people, they'll end up lacking the leadership needed to send it in any given direction."

Nearby, Maura Hopkins took a different approach.

"Why would they appoint somebody with more experience than she has on the lower level, and give her the top job?" she asked. "It doesn't make sense."

But another neighborhood resident, small business owner Drew Randolph, liked the idea of Polakow-Suransky acting as Chief Academic Officer.

"If he has experience and they work together as a team, it would be better on her behalf, you know," said Randolph. "Obviously she does know what she's doing. She probably doesn't have the most full experience as someone else would have. But if she has somebody helping her on the side, that can go along with her, it's definitely a go."


Beth Fertig


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Comments [17]

Leo from Queens from Rego Park, Queens

I can accept someone without a career in education heading the Education dept, but that person should have at least shown some interest in education policy and the issues affecting the quality of urban education. Cathie Black’s World is completely different and alien to the World that is the reality for 98% of the 1.1 million kids attending NYC schools. She does not have the experience or the interest in education issues nor the knowledge or understanding of the realities faced by these kids in school, outside of school or on their way from and to school. Choosing a juicy article or cover for Cosmopolitan is NOT experience that can be translated to the NYC public schools. This is not a sex business.
People talk about the progress that has been made in the school system since Bloomberg took over and that he should be held accountable. How do you propose we hold him accountable? At the ballot box when he is not up for reelection and when the last 2 times he ran for reelection he drowned any voices that wanted to talk about the issues? When we have a meek, subservient media (oooh!.did I say media?) in NYC which is run by his neighbors and wealthy country club retreat buddies? Do you propose we take the numbers published by Mr. Klein and the BOE and hold Mr. Bloomberg accountable with those numbers that have been cooked as was done with Enron with the same disastrous results for the future lives of these children and our City? Does anyone know what the real % of kids graduating from HS is? Do we know how many are moved around the different 'new' mini schools that have been created or moved to programs where they don't get counted in the graduation numbers? Does anyone know the % of kids going to college and the % of those requiring remedial training to be able to do basic college work?
The mayor might have the best intentions, but there is a problem with an oligarch who has bought out all the media, educators and advocacy organizations and who thinks he is always right because he was able to become a billionaire through his own stubbornness. Unlike us, failures who only managed to become middle class despite having 2-3 college degrees.

Nov. 29 2010 11:36 PM
Sherman L. Greene from Upper West Side

It's not a compromise; it's a fig leaf.

Nov. 29 2010 08:09 PM
Frank Puig from Whitestone, Queens

In my previous comment, I reflected on the fact that many generations of pedagogically qualified chancellors had failed to make a measurable difference in NYC student achievement and that if a top manager with no educational qualifications to speak of knew how to extract great thinking and ideas, apply terrific decision-making skills, and provide inspired leadership to BOE staff that the Mayor should have his say in the matter as long as he is held completely and unequivically accountable to student progress. I also said that Bloomberg's lack of any process was a disservice both to our children and to Ms. Black.

Having said this again, I now address the Deputy Chancellor /Chief Academic Officer issue. I have served in the administrations of two mayors and a governor at fairly high levels and have over 40 years bemoaned the increasing practice of appointing (most often for political reasons) Commissioners and other top administrators that had neither the subject matter background or top management experience to run a major agency or organization and then installed an Executive Deputy to in practice run the show. I have never seen it work!

Bloomberg has put two probably very competent people at risk of not being able to do their jobs well as they will be constantly looking over their shoulder at the other. Please read Shael Polakow-Suransky's job description carefully. It is tremendously extensive. The latitude is breathtaking. Though they may start off their relationship cordially, I suspect that less friendly days are ahead.

The Mayor offered his compromise in order not to lose, not to back down. Ms. Black, though at a more sober time might have declined the position because of this compromise solution, could not say no to a friend who travels in the same circles she does. I cannot believe that Ms. Black with her extensive management background and stellar record would have accepted under these new conditions.

Who will win management battles in the future if their are major disagreements between Black and Shael Polakow-Suransky. My bet is on Black as the Mayor's friend and pick. So much for the pedagogic assurances.

My prediction and bet on who will continue to suffer the consequences of this drama - our children!

Nov. 29 2010 07:00 PM
Toria from Harlem, NY

Bloomberg is the real Chancellor and makes all the decisions in his micro-managing style. He and his Billionaire club have set the agenda to dismantle schools for print media fading tycoons as new cash cow. Cathie Black and her side kick are just rubber stamps. A qualified chancellor will be hard to control. Let's hope the lawsuit drags on for 3 years.

Nov. 29 2010 06:49 PM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

Gregory, an activist from Brooklyn, NY, WNYC dose the soft approach. Touchy/feely and all that ’70 stuff. No difficult questions asked. Just tell me your spin and we’ll report it.
No BBC here.

Nov. 29 2010 11:10 AM
MJB from 10009

Cathy Black is making a career change by jumping the sinking ship that is print media with some help from her well-heeled pal Mayor Mike, who's working the work-arounds to get her in. The whole thing really seems as simple as that, and it kinda stinks.

Nov. 29 2010 10:52 AM
JimMLINY from LI

Why hire two for job of one? In these "no money" times, two are going to be paid to do job of one. Fiscal irresponsiblity at its best!

Nov. 29 2010 10:52 AM

So Black gets to lead the schools. Awesome. Great role model. Promotes female empowerment through downloadable sex tip applications and magazines that advocate that looks are what really matter. Good job. Oh well, I guess the hetero boys in the school system will be happy to accept it.

Nov. 29 2010 10:48 AM
Latrice from Brooklyn

What are we missing when the #2 person is described as being passionate and involved in the classroom and in general 10 times more qualified as the proposed Chancellor.

Why does this woman want this job? How WOULD this be in the childrens best interest again?

Yes- please sue. someone has to point out that indeed the emperor is naked and dumb.

Nov. 29 2010 10:46 AM
Gregory, an activist from Brooklyn, NY

If Shael Polakow-Suransky is so impressively qualified and knows all the roles within the system, why not appoint HIM as school chancellor??!! What is really going on here? This is the kind of hard question that I want to hear WNYC discussing

Nov. 29 2010 10:44 AM
Terry M from Yonkers, NY

The comments of teacher Carmen Applewhite show one of the problems with the teachers in the NYC school system. Her analogy is not logical. I would be worried if she were teaching my child. The appropriate analogy would say that the appointment of Black is like having a hospital administrator not be a doctor or nurse but have her second in command be a skilled medical person, who is well past the reading of the manual stage. In the operating room, the person performing the operation would still be a surgeon, just like in the NYC school system the teachers will still be certified for the job they are doing. (Although judging from Ms. Applewhite's ability to do analogies, perhaps that certification process is a bit lacking)

Nov. 29 2010 10:43 AM

Hey, if we love the guy reporting to CBlack, why can't HE be Chancellor?

Nov. 29 2010 10:42 AM
Susan from NYC

Why not name Polakow-Suransky, who appears to be astonishingly qualified, chancellor, since Black is just window dressing (at our substantial expense)?

Nov. 29 2010 10:40 AM
Betty from The Bronx, NY

Creating a new #2 position of chief academic officer was a ploy to make Steiner's decision seem more palatable in the face of significant public opposition. Shael Polakow-Suransky is already a top official at the city's department of education, and would be available to Ms. Black anyway. Giving him a new title will make little difference

Nov. 29 2010 10:30 AM

Note the parallels with the Mayor's apointment of Dept of Building Commissioner LiMandri - unlicensed (not an engineer, not an architect) - deemed ok as long as a licensed underling was in place. Taking this further, the DOB now allows non-licensed personnel to review building plans for safety, code compliance... in violation of that same code! Cost savings and revenue generation trumps law and regulations. Public outcry was muted - no big deal if your buildig falls down around you. Now that the same thing is happening at the DoE, perhaps the outspoken and powerful union and parents can stop this abuse. I can see it now: unlicensed teachers collecting no-homework fines from kids on behalf of the Dept of Ed! Test answers sold to generate revenue, and boost the success rates! Feh.

Nov. 29 2010 08:31 AM
Parent from NYC

The spokeswoman MS Rawitz states that it is in the interest of the children to accept Black? What a bizarre statement.
Board of Ed is more concerned to comply rather than think about the best interests of our children. Parents need to be more involved and need a voice about our children future. I hope that the lawyers who represent
civil rights will take the matter to the courts.The parents need to be heard on this topic; after all over 15 000 signatures means nothing to the Officials and Legislature?

Nov. 29 2010 07:41 AM
MasterG from Harlem

Why quote someone who doesn't fully understand the dilemma?

"Randolf said, 'Obviously she does know what she's doing. She probably doesn't have the most full experience as someone else would have.'"

It's not obvious that Black knows anything about pedagogy or running a school system and that's why there are standards and hiring criteria.

Nov. 29 2010 12:37 AM

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