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The road for Cathie Black: Chancellor of New York City Schools

ROBERT JACKSON | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

The road for Cathie Black as the new schools chancellor seems uncertain, bent by difficult decisions that will ultimately shape the lives of 1.1 million children. She has to keep a broken system whole in the face of steep budget cuts that threaten to leave public school students with less than "an opportunity for a sound basic education." Will she succeed in turning the schools around, accounting for the education of every student that enters our school system? Or will Chancellor Black follow in line with the unproven policies of education reform with a methodology of the end justifying the means?

I've always been a staunch believer in the idea that a good leader can create significant change. If Black does one thing in her tenure as chancellor, it must be to influence the DOE, and every employee therein, with the notion that everything they do is done with the goal of helping our children to succeed in school. These are children with real feelings, hopes and dreams and some with challenging issues. Every decision should be made with the interest of these real children in mind.

From the first day I heard of Black's recommendation for the appointment, I opposed it. I said to myself, "This is another classic example of Mayor Bloomberg not taking into account what's best for the well-being and interests of 1.1 million school children."

I spoke up against it numerous times before her appointment was official, including by sending State Commissioner of Education David Steiner a letter to ask that a waiver not be granted for this individual who clearly did not meet the minimum qualifications to lead our nations' biggest public education system. I also supported the lawsuit that was filed questioning whether her appointment was legal, given that the waiver granted was based on the credentials of a highly qualified deputy superintendent at the DOE.

Given that the waiver was indeed granted, I had to move forward, as it is my responsibility as chair of the Education Committee to build a relationship with whoever is the leader of the Department of Education.

Black and I "broke the ice" at an introductory meeting at my district office prior to visiting PS/IS 187 in Washington Heights and PS 161 in Harlem. I made clear to her my position on her appointment, as stated above. Together, we toured two schools in my district where she had an opportunity to meet and greet school principals, teachers, parents, and students. At that time, I hoped that this leader-to-be, whose main role for the next three years would be to cut, cut and cut, would do so like an experienced surgeon--with deftness and agility, only cutting what is absolutely necessary but keeping the body whole and functioning.

True, it's early in her tenure, but thus far Black has not stepped up to the plate as far as educators, parents and students are concerned--and I agree. In exiting the DOE as schools chancellor, Joel Klein stated that the one thing he wished he had done better was to engage parents more. To engage someone, you must respect that person and show true empathy for their plight.