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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cathie Black Leaves, A Major Embarrassment To Mike Bloomberg

Cathie Black out as city schools chancellor after just three months on the job

April 7, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg’s embattled, hand-picked schools chancellor, Cathie Black, is out after just 96 days on the job.

One source said Bloomberg made the decision himself and told Black of it during a meeting this morning.

"He initiated the conversation," the source said.

Having no choice, Black agreed to go, the source added.

At a news conference at City Hall this morning, Bloomberg sugar-coated the decision, saying the two had "mutually agreed" it was time for her to go.

"I take full responsibility for the fact that this did not work out," he said.

Bloomberg said, "The story had really become about her and away from the kids and that's not right."

Despite that, Bloomberg also said he "thinks [Black] has done an admirable job."

"I have nothing but respect ... for the work she has done," he added.

Black will be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who has served as a cross between a chaperone and mentor to Black since the out-of-left-field announcement of her appointment was made Nov. 11.

The head of the teachers’ union sidestepped questions about his opinions of Black’s departure.

Asked what grade he’d give Black, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said, “She wasn’t in the class for a semester so it wouldn’t be correct for me to give her a grade.“

The former publishing executive’s brief tenure had been wracked by public gaffes, abysmal poll numbers and a steadily departing crew of top level cabinet officials.

Black, 66, who officially took over for former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in January, has been plagued by low approval ratings over the past few months.

Earlier this week, a NY1/Marist College poll showed that just 17 percent of New Yorkers think she was doing a good job, while 61 percent would give her a failing grade.

Black's approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll three weeks ago was a similarly abysmal 17 percent, with 49 percent wishing she'd leave.

Apparently, the sentiment was echoed by some inside the administration.

"This is very good news," said one mayoral insider. "The fallout from the Black appointment just got so untenable."

Black's brief tenure was marked by controversy from the get-go.

In January, Black, whose lack of education and government work had been controversial since her appointment, joked about using "birth control" to stem school overcrowding during a meeting with concerned Manhattan parents.

She also likened her hard choices to those of a Holocaust victim from the novel and movie "Sophie's Choice."

Black later personally apologized, but some people say she never quite rebounded from the fallout. Mayor Bloomberg defended her on that occasion.

"I think the comment she made to me and my neighborhood was the writing on the wall," said Community Board 1 chair Julie Menin.

At a meeting with students and parents in Brooklyn, Black again put her foot in her mouth.

As a chorus of boos greeted her at Brooklyn Tech HS this past February, Black mocked the crowd.

"I cannot speak if you are shouting," Black had said before mocking the crowd's response by repeating, "Ohhhhh."

Since Black took the helm of the nation's largest school system, four of the eight top deputies in place to support her have jumped ship -- include two just this week.

City Council Education Chairman Robert Jackson called Black’s sudden departure "a surprise," but he said it was "best overall for the city of New York and the children of New York City."

"I have high regards for Dennis Walcott," said Jackson. "I’ve known Dennis for over 20 years. "I know Dennis went to the public school system. I know as the deputy mayor he’s not going to lose his ground."

Black's replacement has plenty of education experience.

Walcott has worked as Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development and was a former kindergarten teacher in Queens.

After joining the Bloomberg administration in 2002, he was the President and CEO of the New York Urban League. Walcott graduated from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut with a Bachelor's degree and a Master of Education in 1973 and 1974, respectively, and in 1980, received his Master of Social Work from Fordham University.

Walcott, who served on the now-defunct Board of Education, said he is happy to have the job.

"I am a believer in reform and I am a believer in Mayor Bloomberg," he said.

Black this afternoon said she was happy and relieved, adding that she had gone out and bought a new pair of running shoes.

She also said she was happy to have served and praised Walcott.

Amber Sutherland contributed to this story

Goodbye, Cathie Black
Posted by Amy Davidson, April 7, 2011

There are many moments New Yorkers might focus on as they contemplate why Cathie Black, our improbable schools chancellor, is, as the Times reported, out already, just a few months after Mayor Bloomberg confused everyone by picking her. You don’t get a seventeen per cent approval rating without real effort.

But here’s my favorite, perhaps because it has to do with the particular zone my child is enrolled in, and also says something about the way the city has responded to the legacy of September 11th. As Black heard at a meeting with downtown parents (video above, via the Tribeca Tribune), the area around Ground Zero is, in many ways, doing inspiringly well: through some combination of resilience, urban stubborness, and construction-tax incentives, the population has doubled downtown. This means that the same schools that were evacuated on September 11th are now badly overcrowded. My child’s school, with many more kindergarteners than fifth graders, resembles one of those developing countries in which half the population is under the age of eighteen. Black’s answer?

Can we just have some birth control for once? It would really help us all out.

After some nervous laughter, a parent repeats that he’s talking about children who are already born. Black says, in effect, that things are tough all around—even on the Upper East side.

It is—and I don’t mean this in any flip way—it is many Sophie’s Choices.

Holocaust metaphors are rarely a good idea. The head of a public-school system using one that involves picking one child for the Nazis to send to the gas chambers—which was Sophie’s choice in the novel—is really not a good idea. I’ll be curious to see what Black does next.

Retrospective: The Cathie Black Gaffe-A-Thon


From verbal gaffes to losing her temper, Cathie Black added fuel to her critics' fire soon after Mayor Bloomberg appointed her chancellor, reports our Education Team's Meredith Kolodner:

Public outrage accompanied her November appointment to replace outgoing chancellor Joel Klein, taking the form of public protests and a lawsuit to deny her the state waiver she needed to become chancellor.

But barely two weeks after her handlers released her from a month-long seclusion from public questions and interviews, she stepped into controversy.

At a meeting about massive overcrowding in lower Manhattan schools, the new chancellor, whose own children never attended public school, asked parents, "Could we just have some birth control for a while?...It would really help us."

There was more to come.

Hundreds of parents booed her at the next school policy meeting, waving condoms. Black managed to keep her cool through the meeting, but revealed her lack of familiarity with school matters by referring to long-time panel member Patrick Sullivan as "Mr. Cunningham."

At the next public meeting, where she was booed again, she let her annoyance get the best of her. She responded to the hecklers by mocking them, screwing up her face and mimicking them, "Oooooh." The clip played continuously on local television stations.

Her public appearances began to dwindle, and she was flanked wherever she did go by deputy mayor Dennis Walcott, who stepped into taking the substantial questions.

She further alienated principals, who complained she was not as responsive to emails as Klein had been, when she refused to overturn a decision to take half the money principals had saved for next year in anticipation of budget cuts.

By Monday, Cathie Black clocked in with an approval rating of 17%.

Some saw the writing on the wall early. The first deputy chancellor to jump ship - Photeine Anagnostopoulos, deputy chancellor for finance and technology - left the agency the day after Black was appointed.

Eric Nadelstern, who was essentially number two in command under Klein, resigned in January. He was followed by well-regarded veteran Santiago Taveras and wunderkind John White this week.


Nov. 9, 2010 - Schools Chancellor Joel Klein abruptly steps down, and city officials announce magazine exec Cathie Black as his surprisingly replacement. Since she lacks the proper education background, she'll require a waiver from the state Education Department.

Nov. 23, 2010 - An advisory board created by State Education Commissioner David Steiner gave a thumb's down to Black, unless a chief academic officer is appointed.

Nov. 26, 2010 - Mayor Bloomberg caves and appoints Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky as chief academic officer.

Nov. 29, 2010 - Steiner grants Black the necessary waiver. "I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get going," she says.

Dec. 8, 2010 - A group of public school parents sued the state for granting Black the waiver, saying Steiner "acted unlawfully." An Albany judge affirmed Steiner's right to to make the call several weeks later.

Jan. 2, 2011 - On her first official day on the job, Black tours a school in each borough. "For me, this is a dream. It's a dream job, a dream opportunity, a chance to make a difference," she said.

Jan. 13, 2011 - Black's joke at a parent meeting about overcrowding bombed. "Could we just have some birth control for a while?" she asked.

Jan. 19, 2011 - Parents at an education policy meeting waved condoms at her in protest.

Feb. 1, 2011 - At another contentious meeting, Black lost her temper and replied "oooh" at parents who booed her.

April 4, 2011 - Deputy chancellor Santiago Taveras steps down, the third to leave during Black's brief tenure. An an NY1/Marist poll shows her approval rating is a dismal 17 %.

April 6, 2011 - Deputy chancellor John White announces he will also leave for a job heading New Orleans public schools.

April 7, 2011 - Black steps down.

State Education Commissioner Steiner next out after Cathie Black

Posted: 2:25 PM, April 7, 2011
ALBANY – Next out: State Education Commissioner David Steiner

Steiner, who drew fire for granting a critical waiver to let Cathie Black become city schools chief, will soon be the next education big to hit the road, state education sources told The Post this afternoon.

State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch confirmed during a radio interview this morning rumors that the former Hunter College dean was mulling an exit less than two years after taking the state's top education job.

Tisch insisted Steiner had not yet made a decision, but sources later told The Post that Steiner's departure was imminent.

"I have heard a lot about that," Tisch told the Syracuse-based public radio station, WCNY. "I believe that the commissioner is exploring other options, but no decision has been made."

The spokesman for the State Education Department said the agency had no immediate comment.

The Regents – in one of their first acts under Tisch's leadership - voted with great fanfare in July 2009 to elect Steiner commissioner, where he oversees the state's some 700 school districts and 240,000 certified educators.

The commissioner drew criticism in November for granting a waiver that allowed Cathie Black to serve as chancellor, even though she lacked formal education experience. A state court later upheld the waiver.