Mayor Michael Bloomberg stunned many in the city yesterday when he announced that publishing executive Cathie Black will replace Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, again turning to a successful candidate from corporate America though with no background in education.
Black, 66, will be the first female to head the country’s largest public school system, coming off 15 years at top posts at Hearst Magazines.
Bloomberg, who has made education his signature platform in his two-plus terms as mayor, called her a “world-class manager” who “understands that we have to make sure our kids have the skill sets to partake in the American dream.”
“Cathie will take it to a whole other level,” Bloomberg said of Black, a Chicago native who attended parochial schools as a child and sent her own children to boarding schools in Connecticut.
Hizzoner’s parting words to Black at a news conference announcing her appointment was, “Don’t screw it up,” the same joking advice the mayor gives to all his new hires but which also made clear that there’s many challenges ahead for the new chief.
“We essentially have a system … being run by people who send their own kids to private schools and would never stand for the conditions our children face today,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of the nonprofit organization Class Size Matters.
For her part, Black acknowledged that she has not had experience dealing with unions but said she’s “excited about this incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our young people.” She is set to take over the schools later in the year.
Black will take over the reins of an agency that employs about 135,000 people in more than 1,500 schools, serves 1.1 million students and has a budget of around $23 billion.
Klein, 64, meanwhile, will become an executive vice president at News Corp. The longest serving chancellor, Klein was appointed after Bloomberg controversially took over control of the school system.
During his tenure, he focused much attention on standardized test scores but faced criticism for leaving parents and teachers out of the system.
Sources told the New York Times that education officials were taken off guard by both the announcement of Klein’s departure and Black as his replacement.
Some New Yorkers think Black’s business background is a good fit for the system.
“She has the business-set mind capable of getting things done, getting things the schools need," said Dwight Thompson, 29, of Brooklyn, who has nieces and nephews in public schools.
(With Emma Diab)