‘Just a Guy from Queens’

Mayor Michael Bloomberg all but admitted last week that hiring Cathie Black to run the city schools was a mistake. He called a press conference last week to announce he and Black agreed that her resignation was in the best interest of the children attending city public schools.

At the same time, he announced he was appointing Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott as the new chancellor. Walcott is everything Black is not. He describes himself as “a guy from Queens” and notes that four generations of his family have attended the city public schools.

Black was a successful publishing executive from Connecticut with no experience in education. Neither she nor her children have ever attended a public school. Although she is bright and a skilled administrator, she was a bad choice.

At his conference, the mayor said, “Cathie and I had a conversation this morning. We both agreed the story had become her, and it should be about the students.”

True, but whose fault was that? Black was unpopular with teachers and parents from Day 1. The public might have accepted someone brought in from the outside, but only if that person had a record of success in a public school system.

Black’s gaffs were compounded by a public that resented her appointment.

We believe Walcott has the skills and experience in the public education system that will enable him to be an effective leader.

Walcott will be walking into the fire. The mayor has warned that under the new state budget the city will be forced to lay off more than 4,600 teachers. He has asked the state Legislature to repeal the last in, first out rule that requires school systems to let go of the newest hires first in the event of a layoff. The mayor wants to make certain schools can keep the best and brightest teachers. Sounds good, but who would make that decision?

Walcott will also be under pressure to continue the city Department of Education plan to close the city’s “failing” schools. He understands the importance of the targeted schools to the communities they serve. His boss does not.

We are proud the mayor has selected “a guy from Queens” to run the public school system and we wish Walcott success.

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