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.

Let’s take school closings for example. Mayor Bloomberg announced that New York City will close 10 percent of the lowest performing schools in the city within four years–that’s about 160 schools. School communities in all boroughs have expressed outrage at the process by which schools have been slated to close, despite community opposition. This is an example of a poor education reform policy that the DOE has adopted as a way to save schools.

What it really shows is that the DOE has failed our children. When schools are closed, they are replaced by new leadership, new teaching staff, smaller classrooms, and of course resources and all of the innovative ideas the DOE can dish out. That’s great for the new students coming in. What about the thousands of students who are being phased out? Who’s looking out for them?

Coming in new, Black is missing an opportunity to truly build a partnership with educators, advocates and parents in turning low-performing schools around. Her sarcasm at recent public meetings failed to restore confidence that our New York City public schools are being led by someone who cares and “gets it.” Parents need to know that, no matter who they are, how much they earn, what ZIP code they live in or the results of any lottery, their kids are entitled to the best education possible.

Before she continues on this wayward path, Black needs to pause and reflect on how she can truly champion the issues that have historically plagued our public education system. Children only get one chance at their education. A high school senior who graduates unprepared for college-level work can’t turn back the hands of time and start all over again. It just doesn’t work that way. Life continues moving forward and it is our responsibility to ensure that our students are equipped to successfully tackle the next hurdle, be it first grade, middle school, high school, college or looking for work. Right now, too many students go a semester without arts education, adequate space for specialty classes or physical education–and these are only a few of the basic tools for a quality education!

In this quest to improve schools, instead of gambling with students’ education, the DOE, Panel for Educational Policy and more specifically Black need to be mindful of how their poor relationship with parents and the public continues to hinder their progress. The DOE consistently fails to be honest about school capacity and usage. This makes it very difficult for education advocates and public officials to adequately fight for resources or solutions that would ease the problem of overcrowded classrooms. Blaming a community’s reproductive behavior for this systematic dilemma is shortsighted and insensitive.

My understanding is that Black has a remarkable reputation for success as a corporate leader. And while the DOE may be similar in size, there is a fundamental difference between it and large corporations. The DOE was not created to manufacture a product that we hope to sell for a profit. The DOE exists as an institution of teaching and learning for our children.

It is society’s obligation, both legal and moral, to educate its children so that they can be successful in contributing to the preservation of freedom and democracy in our city, state, country and world. Let’s work together to fix schools, not close them.