Crowd jeers Black during visit to Kew Gardens Hills school

Teacher Chris Wierzbicki holds up a sign at the conclusion of an appearance of city Schools Chancellor Cathie Black in Kew Gardens Hills. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Connor Adams Sheets

Controversial city Schools Chancellor Cathie Black’s appearance before Community Education Council 25 Monday evening at a Kew Garden Hills public school threw parents and teachers into a frenzy over what they described as her inexperience and disdain for their struggles and concerns.

In a raucous meeting chock-full of interruptions, shouts and angry outbursts at Black, who was the public face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s divisive education policies at the hearing, she presented some concrete ideas, but mostly revealed shocking greenness, according to many of the 300 to 400 parents and teachers in attendance.

“I’m just disgusted. I came here kind of expecting to get some answers and there weren’t any,” Anna Cerilli, an English as a Second Language teacher at PS 129 in College Point, said after listening to Black for the little more than an hour she spent at PS 165, at 70-35 150th St. “I wanted her to address the needs of ESL students and smaller class sizes.”

The crowd was a hostile one, holding up signs with slogans that read, “You are NOT qualified to TEACH our students, what makes you THINK you can run the Board of Education?” and even going so far as to yell “birth control,” referencing the punch line of a crass joke Black made last month about how to reduce overcrowding in schools she has not been able to live down ever since.

Some of the biggest issues Black discussed were those of teacher tenure, funding, class size, the place of charter schools and the fate of Jamaica High School, and at times she was able to cut through the din and speak about her and the administration’s views on how to best educate the city’s public school children.

“My approach to tenure is that someone should earn tenure,” she said, drawing jeers and boos from teachers in the crowd. “It ought to be something that is earned. It ought to be something that is not root. And I would suggest that someone who has worked three or four or five years probably doesn’t deserve lifetime employment.”

But Ken Cohen, a former member of what was then called Community School Board 25, and father of Ken Cohen Jr., a current member of CEC 25, said that many answers Black offered were less than satisfactory.

“I’m very upset that the voices of the parents weren’t heard and no questions were answered, and she just kind of skimmed over the tops of the issues,” he said.

Black, a former media executive, has a full slate of challenges ahead of her, as the public school system faces massive budget cuts, layoffs and more.

Naser Durakovic, a young, untenured teacher at JHS 194 in Whitestone, said he thinks Black will not stay in her new post for long.

“I don’t think she’ll last until June. You can tell the job’s taking a toll on her,” he said after her remarks, which she ended abruptly without answering what she described as the final question. “She looks like she’s unfit to deal with the rigors of dealing with the public as opposed to the rigors of a stringent corporate environment.”

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

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