Steiner Says No! and handicapping the race for #2

A shocking result today from the panel convened to advise New York Education Commissioner David Steiner on whether to give a waiver to Cathie Black, Mayor Blomberg’s pick to lead the city’s schools.  The panel, composed of expert educators that includes several people who are close to Bloomberg and/or current chancellor Joel Klein, voted to deny the necessary waiver to Bloomberg’s pick in a stunning rebuke.  The panel, with 8 voting members, went 4 No, 2 Yes, and 2 “Not at this time.”  That third option, “not at this time,” seems to be the position favored by Steiner.

This is breaking news, so comment has not been given by the Mayor’s office or the Department of Education.  Meanwhile, the edu-blogosphere and even the traditional media is lighting up with ideas about what this means for the city’s school system, the largest in the nation.  Steiner has suggested that Black’s application for a waiver would be looked upon more favorably if a “buddy” with education credentials were named.  According to the New York Times:

…Believing Ms. Black’s inexperience in education to be a liability, Dr. Steiner intends to deny the mayor’s request unless Mr. Bloomberg agrees to appoint a chief academic officer to oversee teaching, learning and accountability and serve as the No. 2 person to Ms. Black.

Now, the huge question on the mind of many New Yorkers is, obviously: who?  Steiner and the panel had no suggestions for who this person might be, but there are plenty of options out there.  To start, we can look at the panel of education experts itself, which is rife with exceptional educators and people who have close ties to the DOE and Bloomberg.

Michele Cahill, who currently serves as vice-president for national affairs at the Carnegie Corporation, was a long-time senior official at Tweed.  She is close to Joel Klein and was central to the Department’s efforts to reduce the dropout rate and establish multiple pathways to high school graduation.  She left her post as a senior counselor to Klein recently, so it is unclear if she’d be willing to return in this role.  Although she has teaching experience, she too lacks the credentials to become a superintendent in New York, so perhaps her odds are a bit long.  Indeed, in 2004 state officials warned that she would not receive a waiver to become a deputy chancellor. We’re giving her 10-1.

Next up is one of three superintendents who served on the panel, Rochester’s Jean-Claude Brizard.  The only super on the panel with ties to the city, Brizard is a graduate of City College and Queens College.  He served under Klein as a regional superintendent and executive director of secondary schools.  Before becoming a superintendent, he was an instructional superintendent for district 8, a principal, and a teacher at both the middle and high school levels.  His resume is very strong, but he only arrived in Rochester 2 years ago, and he’s still quite young.  His pick would likely be very popular with Klein and Black’s detractors, because he has great credentials and is a native of Haiti, though he grew up in the city.  Odds: 7-1.

The next logical place to look at potential “co-chancellors” is the current Department of Education’s roster of deputy chancellors.  Many of these individuals have exceptional backgrounds in education, and there are several who could pass muster with the public and also manage the workload.  The first choice, and the odds-on favorite for this post, should he want it, is Eric Nadelstern.  He currently serves as the Deputy Chancellor for the Division of School Support and Instruction, or DSSI.  This office was formed in the summer of 2010, and Nadelstern is the first to head it up.  He has a long career as an educator in the Bronx, moving to Tweed in 2006.  That year, he also applied to lead Las Vegas’ schools, claiming to have turned down the job when a position in Klein’s administration became available.  He is very well-respected inside the Department, and his pick would satisfy those who claim an educator is needed.  Odds: 3-1.

Our last choice (for today) is Shael Polakow-Suranksy, the Deputy Chancellor for Performance and Accountability.  Shael is also a former educator, having worked in schools as a teacher and principal and also having founded two small schools, including the Bronx International High School.  He is another rising star at Tweed, though outside of the DOE, he is a relative unknown.  His lack of a public profile could be a good thing here, giving him decent odds to rise to the #2 spot.  Putting him in at 6-1.

There are other, higher profile names out there who could be brought in to help Ms. Black learn a thing or two about public education.  Michelle Rhee is one that has been floated, but it’s doubtful she would take a demotion from her job leading DC’s schools.  Who else is out there?  Since a public search for the job never occurred, these kinds of names have not been discussed in New York.  Would another big city’s superintendent want to come to New York to take a semi-demotion?  Many of the major cities close by, including Boston, Hartford, and Philly, all have relatively new superintendents, all having served less than 4 years in their currents posts.  Could someone like Carol Johnson be convinced to take the trip down I-95 for this job?  Hard to tell.

It’s tough to guess at who might fill this position, because it has yet to really be defined.  Again from the NYTimes:

According to one member, Susan H. Fuhrman, Mr. Steiner gave the panel three options on whether to recommend a waiver for Ms. Black: yes, no and “not at this time,” meaning they would reconsider the application if it were resubmitted with a change such as the addition of a chief academic officer, an official who would have academic and education credentials, as well as autonomy.

Autonomy? That’s a difference maker, especially if the Mayor wants to attract a super from another district.

The only thing for sure at this point is that this will be FUN to watch.  I’m picking of none of the names mentioned here being picked as a clear frontrunner, at 2:1.  And, as we know, the Mayor can throw a curveball when he wants to.  We could have an entirely new Chancellor pick shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.  Stay tuned!

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