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Black out, Walcott in as chancellor

Mulgrew hopes change is an opportunity to shelve failed policies

Cathie Black makes a quick exit from Department of Education headquarters after resigning as chancellor on April 7.
New Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks at an event on the morning of April 7.

After only three tumultuous months on the job, embattled Schools Chancellor Cathie Black resigned on April 7. She was replaced by Dennis Walcott, a former Board of Education president and now top aide to the mayor on educational issues.

At a press conference at City Hall, a grim-faced Bloomberg said that he and Black, a former publishing executive with no education experience, met that morning and had “mutually agreed” that she should step down.

“I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had expected,” he said.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the change in leadership presented an opportunity for positive change.

“I am hoping that the DOE and the city of New York take this as an opportunity to change some of the education policies that are not working,” he told reporters at a UFT press conference later that day. “We need to focus on real learning, we need to allow every child to succeed, and we need to fix schools and stop the punitive actions.”

Mulgrew said it was time to stop “the rhetoric” and start focusing on children and their educational needs.

“What I’d really like to see is for them to stop playing politics with the schools of New York City,” he said.

A NY1-Marist poll released on April 5 put Black’s approval rating at 17 percent.

In announcing his new choice as chancellor, the mayor said that Walcott “has been a key part of all our education reform initiatives” for the past nine years in his role as deputy mayor for education and community development and will be “building on the reforms we have adopted.”

Asked by a reporter if he had any qualms about the current emphasis on standardized testing and the pressure to teach to the test, Walcott said he had none.

“I’m a big believer in tests,” he said. “Along that line, I won’t change anything.”

Walcott, who received a waiver from the State Education Department on April 14, taught kindergarten for two years, created a mentoring program for urban youth, and then for 12 years served as president of the New York City Urban League before being appointed deputy mayor in 2001. He also served on the former Board of Education in the 1990s.

The mayor said that Shael Polakow-Suransky, who became chief academic officer as a condition of Black receiving a waiver from the state, will continue in that post.

The switch in chancellors comes on the heels of a series of high-profile departures at the Department of Education since Black’s arrival. Deputy Chancellor John White announced on April 6 that he was leaving to become the head of the New Orleans school district. Only four of the eight deputy chancellors under Joel Klein when he left in January remain.

Asked by a reporter what grade he would give Black’s performance, Mulgrew quipped, “She wasn’t in the classroom for a semester so it’s impossible to give her a grade.”

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