After three tumultuous months on the job, Cathie Black has stepped down as the city’s Schools Chancellor—she won’t be missed. In her place, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has appointed Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott.
From the moment Black’s appointment was announced, the criticism was swift. Black, the former Hearst Magazine executive, lacked any educational experience and, by most accounts, had never stepped foot in a city public school.
During Bloomberg’s press conference last Thursday announcing the change, he stressed that it’s time to “move forward” and continue the educational reforms he has instituted over the past nine years. But it’s important to look back and determine what went wrong.
Black seemed to be a figurehead, appointed solely to push Bloomberg’s educational agenda. The public saw through this ruse, and it didn’t help that Black’s statements and demeanor did not resonate with the public. Along with her lack of experience, Black could do nothing right. As Bloomberg said, the story became about Cathie Black—not New York City’s public schools.
Although he will require a waiver from the state like his predecessor, Walcott is better qualified—he was a teacher, has two Masters degrees and attended Queens public schools. With the experience, his proposals and statements likely will be met with less vitriol. Yet the close relationship between Walcott and Bloomberg suggests that Walcott will do the Mayor’s bidding. Will he fight back against some of the Mayor’s proposals? Does he have a separate vision to push for city students? Can he bridge gaps between teachers, administrators and union officials? These are the questions that will determine how Walcott is ultimately viewed as Chancellor.
We believe Walcott has potential to help our city schools and look forward to seeing how he handles his new job. Of course there’s a big question—the one the Mayor avoided at length. Why wasn’t he considered the first time?