Black receives state waiver

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Queens legislators congratulated Cathie Black on her appointment as city schools chancellor Monday night and said they hoped the head of the nation’s largest school system will soon sit down with lawmakers and those involved in education to discuss her goals.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner Monday granted Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, a waiver that state law mandated she had to receive in order to become chancellor because she has no background in education. Steiner’s decision came after three weeks of criticism from borough lawmakers and civic leaders as well as a slew of education and parent groups from throughout the city, who said Black was not equipped to lead the city’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren.

As part of a deal brokered between the city and the state to ensure a waiver would be granted, city Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky will serve as Black’s chief academic officer. Polakow-Suransky has spent time as a teacher and principal.

“While I wish Ms. Black well on her new assignment, I feel that without a background in education, she has a difficult task ahead as she takes over as chancellor of the largest public schools system in the nation,” Borough President Helen Marshall said.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), chairwoman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee, said while she “was not happy with this nomination,” she wished Black well and urged her to visit places like Flushing and Forest Hills high schools.

“I would suggest she figure out the difference between the balance sheet of a corporation and the needs of the children,” Stavisky said. “She should start acquainting herself with classrooms, and Districts 26 and 25 are two great places to start because despite massive overcrowding, our schools are good. She should see what works.”

Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adjoa Gzifa said she was “outraged” by the fact Black will become chancellor Jan. 1. CB 12 covers Jamaica and parts of St. Albans and Springfield Gardens.

“How dare the mayor put this person with no educational experience whatsoever in charge of 1.1 million children,” Gzifa said. “It’s ridiculous.”

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) threw his support behind Black, but has continued to question the way Bloomberg chose Black, a process during which he did not consult city legislators, educators or parents. Stavisky also lambasted Bloomberg for the way he chose Black without consulting the public.

“With Ms. Black’s proposed appointment of Mr. Polakow-Suransky, a dedicated educator, I have decided to support Ms. Black’s appointment,” Halloran said. But my support comes with a condition. I ask the mayor to voluntarily present Ms. Black to the City Council’s Education Committee.”

Bloomberg announced a little more than three weeks ago that he had picked Black to replace former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who resigned after eight years with the Bloomberg administration and said he would join News Corp. as an executive vice president reporting directly to News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch. New Corp. owns TimesLedger Newspapers.

Black is expected to resign from her position as chairwoman of Hearst Magazines but does not have to do so before she officially becomes chancellor in January, a DOE spokeswoman said

She will make $250,000 a year as chancellor.

“Despite her lack of direct experience in education, I find that Ms. Black’s exceptional record of leading complex organizations and achievement of excellence in her endeavors, warrant certification for service in the New York City School District,” Steiner wrote in a 12-page decision issued Monday.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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