As public school students head back to the classroom after the holiday break, newly appointed New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black had her first day of school on Monday. The former publishing businesswoman-turned-education administrator spent the day touring one school in each of the five boroughs.
Surrounded by a barrage of media every step of the way, Black started her tour in Brooklyn at P.S. 262 El Hajj Malik El Shabazz School, where late activist Sonny Carson was heavily involved. Escorting her were Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor of Education Dennis Walcott, as Black greeted students going back to class. One protester was on school grounds holding a sign that read “Black Must Go!”
At a press conference held at the school, Black said that since her appointment just over eight weeks, ago she has visited over 20 schools.
“I believe that my management experience is going to be an asset to the Department of Education and to our schools,” she said. “Our kids have to succeed in a very complex and different world. I think we are off on a really great path. We must have the best school system in America.”
Later in the day, Black visited North Queens Community High School, the High School for Dance and Violin in the Bronx, and Richard H. Hungerford School in Staten Island.
While in Manhattan, Black visited Democracy Prep Charter School in Harlem, where students gave her a tour. Black interacted with students and asked them questions about their academic and extracurricular involvement. She also observed students in math, reading and language classes.
“I’m very pro-charter school, I’m pro all choices and I’m pro-option,” she said. “We’ve got 1.1 million children in this city to educate, so charter schools are one option. But we have to look at our other public schools and make them…as good as we possibly can.”
Black added that as her tour went on, she was positive about what she saw in the schools, but said there is a lot of work that needs to be done and that every parent must be thinking that their “child deserves the best education they possibly can get.”
Critics are already taking shots at Black on her first day, complaining that she didn’t get a real picture of the crisis that the city’s public schools face, and that she only went to schools that were high performing–Democracy Prep Charter School is considered to be one of the top rated schools in Harlem.
When asked by reporters about the types of schools she’s been visiting, Black said she’s been to all types of schools.
Monday’s tour was a sign that Black’s controversial appointment by Bloomberg in November is now a reality, despite continued opposition. Black took over the job from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who is taking a position at News Corp.
Public outcry, protests and legal battles immediately followed the announcement of Black’s appointment because of her complete lack of educational experience. Protesters particularly highlighted the fact that she didn’t have the necessary educational requirements and didn’t even have a New York City public education herself. Her children did not receive a public education; in fact, they attended a boarding school in Connecticut.
Black’s lack of qualifications required her to obtain a waiver from the state’s Department of Education commissioner in order to serve. In order for her to become chancellor, Black was forced to have a chief academic officer serve alongside her.
Efforts to prevent Black from serving were curtailed last week when the state Supreme Court upheld Black’s waiver. In total, three separate Article 78 petitions challenging the waiver were filed and consolidated during the court hearing. However, the lawsuits weren’t enough to keep Black out.
Last Wednesday, Judge Gerald Connolly of the Albany County Supreme Court denied the petitions submitted on behalf of 13 parent petitioners and one teacher challenging New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner’s waiver of employment requirements for Black to become chancellor.
“The decision by Judge Connolly is extremely disappointing, but we will not throw in the towel with respect to the effort to improve our public schools system,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies, who was one of the petitioners. “Cathie Black remains unqualified to be chancellor. We will make a determination about whether to appeal shortly.”
Attorney Norman Siegel, who represented the petitioners, said his clients are “disappointed” with the court decision, and that they had hoped and anticipated a decision that would work in their favor.
“We believed that there would be a different outcome and that Ms. Black’s waiver would not be allowed to stand,” said Siegel. “I will be consulting with the parents and teacher to determine their next step.”
“We will continue to fight this case in the courts,” said attorney Roger Wareham, who represented several parents in the lawsuits. “All the attorneys will continue to work to ensure the voices of the people of New York City will be heard. We will be participating in community meetings throughout the city to update our people on each and every step of this process. But the most important aspect of this struggle is for everyone who is genuinely concerned and able to contribute, to come forward and engage. We must be vocal, active and in the streets of every borough now more than ever. Our children need us.”