Cathie Black out, Dennis Walcott in at helm of NYC schools

This is almost old news by now (7 hours after the announcement), but a shocking announcement this morning: now ex-Chancellor Cathie Black stepped down from her job leading New York City schools, leaving behind 1.1 million public school students and lots of headaches. In her place, Mayor Bloomberg taps Dennis Walcott, a city native who has overseen education and health care initiatives as a deputy mayor since Bloomberg took office in 2002.

At a presser this morning, Bloomberg–who appeared with Walcott, Black notably absent–talked about Black’s departure. “I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped,” the Mayor said, adding that he and Black mutually agreed that it was time for her to go. Although many sources are wondering aloud if Black was forced out, it makes sense that it was a mutual decision–the Chancellorship is an impossible job, particularly for someone like Black with no experience (or knowledge…) in education or city politics.

Enter Dennis Walcott, an African American from Queens who is everything Black is not. A former teacher, social worker, nonprofit executive and deputy mayor, Walcott has received an overwhelmingly positively reception, with a few exceptions, principally coming from the Deny the Waiver coalition, which responded in a measured way by asking for a chancellor who would not require a waiver from the state to serve–in other words, a credentialed principal with experience in schools.

A prominent member of that group, outspoken DOE critic assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, had this to say on the decision to replace Black:

The resignation of Cathie Black represents an extraordinary public acknowledgement by City Hall that her appointment did not serve the best interest of our public school children,”

Although few would argue that trading Black for Walcott is anything but an improvement for the school system, there are concerns about the direction Walcott will lead schools in. “I serve at the pleasure of the Mayor,” he noted in remarks delivered today, which in addition to his role at City Hall have led most to believe that he will continue the policies of Joel Klein. This includes punitive accountability and a heavy emphasis on standardized test scores. These are policies which hurt kids and are destructive to schools and communities, and we hope that under Chancellor Walcott, the city can transform education into a positive experience for all kids. Public education can and should be a powerful experience for kids, but too often in this city, kids are damaged and injured by their schooling.

Education is the cornerstone of a young person’s life. We need to make sure that no matter who the chancellor is, we keep that in mind and focus on children.

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