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Bloomberg announces Walcott will replace Black as schools chancellor

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Queens officials are welcoming Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement Thursday that city Schools Chancellor Cathie Black will leave her post and be replaced by Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Dennis Walcott.

“There’s no one that understands New York City public schools and the challenges they face together better than Dennis Walcott,” Bloomberg said. “Cathie and I had a conversation this morning. We both agreed the story had become her, and it should be about the students.”

Black worked for years in the magazine publishing industry and had no experience as an educator before being picked to replace former Chancellor Joel Klein in November. During her short tenure she endured fierce criticism from teachers, parents and officials who said she was not knowledgeable enough about education issues.

Walcott, a former head of the city Board of Education and Francis Lewis HS alumnus, lives in Cambria Heights and is a former kindergarten teacher. A lifetime southeast Queens resident, he also was an adjunct professor at York College in Jamaica. His grandson marks the fourth generation of his family to attend city schools.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said Black’s tenure as chancellor “wasn’t working,” and that he supported the selection of Walcott, but he did not expect him to halt the planned closings of schools, including Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools.

“Cathie Black decided this wasn’t the right fit for her, and that’s not a surprise,” Comrie said after Bloomberg’s announcement. “Dennis has been involved with the Department of Education for many years and knows all the aspects of it .... I don’t think it will affect their philosophy that immediately. The Department of Education is still going to do their process of closures. He has supported those procedures so far and I don’t see him as chancellor changing it.”

 Walcott, the first in his family to graduate from college, said during Bloomberg’s Thursday press conference that he backed the administra­tion’s controversial reliance on testing in public schools, but that the key purpose was college preparation.

“I’m a believer in what we do. I’m a believer in reform. I’m a believer in this mayor, but more importantly I’m a believer in our 1.1 million students,” “Our goal is to make sure our students are college-ready when they graduate.”

City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) criticized Black’s performance as chancellor and said he would “reserve judgment on Walcott,” although he thought Bloomberg should consult with teachers and parents about the decision.

“I said from the very start that Cathie Black is incompetent,” said Dromm, a former fourth-grade teacher. “Cathie Black was totally unqualified and unprepared for the job and it speaks very poorly of the administration to now have this happen.”

Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) is a vocal opponent of the use of test scores to evaluate schools and teachers, but he said Thursday that he was “a big fan of Dennis Walcott” and that he was a good choice for chancellor.

“I can’t expect there’ll be much of a policy change with a new chancellor,” Weprin said. “However, I am a big admirer of Dennis Walcott and expect (him to be) someone who knows New York City public schools and someone who understands the school system.”

City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) applauded Bloomberg’s choice of Walcott to replace Black.

“I commend the mayor for appointing Dennis Walcott, a longtime education leader, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for years,” Vallone said in a statement. “As a fellow son of Queens, I have the utmost confidence in his ability to continue to improve our schools.”

The United Federation of Teachers declined to comment Thursday afternoon.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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