In fact, as the cover story in New York magazine begins, ?Cathie Black is lost in Queens?. Usually when Black goes east, she's headed to her $4 million house in Southampton,? not the Coney Island elementary school where the new Gotham schools chief was supposed to be going.????
It goes without saying that the chancellorship of New York City schools is -- sui generis. ?Nothin' quite like it. ?Over a million kids. Eighty thousand teachers.? Hundreds of buildings.? A budget of over $20 billion a year.? Staggering numbers.? You might as well be running a small country ? for small people! Worse, there are four major TV networks, four major newspaper dailies, and dozens of Internet denizens ? all looking over your shoulder, tracking every cough or sneeze, trolling for news!? In week three, her comment to a group of parents worried about school crowding ? ?Could we just have some birth control for a while?? ? earned headlines. ?The Times already has a page devoted to Black stories and profiles.
Running New York City's schools is not so much a job as a penance. ?(I didn't see Governor Andrew Cuomo (who makes $179,000), while castigating the state's school superintendents for their exorbitant salaries, offer to trade places with Gotham's school's chancellor, even though she makes $250,000. In fact, Black, as the New York story points out, is taking a considerable pay cut from what she was used to in the corporate CEO world.)
Veteran NYC educator Seymour Fliegel recalled (see my Ed Next story) seeing Michael Bloomberg not long after he announced in 2002 his desire to take control of the city's schools and ?be held accountable for the results.??
?I met with the mayor early on,? said Fliegel, ?and I said to him, ?You want to take over the city's schools? And be held accountable for how they do? Are you crazy?'?
A month on the job and, according to New York, Cathie Black is ?having a hard time selling herself.? As Gotham Schools reported, the New York story ?paints Black as a relentless self-promoter.?? ?Not much of a honeymoon here.
Her fourth week on the job (oh yes, she made her first snow day call at 5 a.m. on her 12th day of the job: Schools would stay open!)? Black presided over a meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy, which was scheduled to vote on closing a dozen schools, an always contentious part of the Bloomberg education reform strategy. Two thousand people packed the auditorium of the Brooklyn Technical High School auditorium and, if there was a honeymoon, it was officially over this Thursday evening as the new chancellor was greeted with jeers -- ?Black is wack! Black must go!? ?She stumbled when she tried to out-heckle some hecklers. ?(See here.)
A couple days later she was back, for another round of school closing decisions and more hecklers. ?This time she kept her cool (see the Gotham Schools), but the Times come-back kid himself, Michael Winerip, was there ? don't tell Whitney Tilson ? and weighed in on the event for the Times, pushing the theme of ?forgone decisions? a little too hard. ?
In any case, the New York story, by Chris Smith, a?veteran wordsmith who covers political celebrities like Chuck Schumer, Charlie Rangel, Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bloomberg ? and who has an eye for a power-broker's Achilles heel and a gift for the teasy ?lede" -- is worth the read. ?Despite the sense that it's a bit early for judgment, Smith offers enough good background on Black and enough intelligent reporting about New York's school system and enough saucy anecdote ? ?her library is all self-help books, `How to make eye contact, shake a hand, tell people you're listening.' All these tricks!? ? the story is good for even hardcore?policy wonks.
Oh yes, Black was born in Chicago.? Look out, New York.
--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow