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Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott Is New York City's New Chancellor As Cathie Black Resigns
I don't like kicking someone when he is down, I really, really don't. But I have to say that Mayor Mike Bloomberg has once again put politics before policy. Dennis Walcott is not a good choice for Chancellor. Either Mike Bloomberg is not listening to anyone, or he does not know Mr. Walcott's past as President of the Urban League. In 2000 I spent many hours with Dennis Walcott's secretary and the news was not good about her boss. Where is the $3 million that you received from the NYC Board of Education in 1999 to do School Leadership Training? Just asking. Betsy Combier
April 7, 2011 3:46 PM
Meet the new guy: Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott
With Cathleen Black out, mayor's longtime deputy for education is on deck to run a school system with 1.1 million students, 121,000 employees and a $22 billion budget.

Dennis Walcott has served as a deputy mayor focused on education and youth policy since the beginning of the Bloomberg administration in 2002.

Over the years, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott's penchant for trying new things has led him to take up skydiving, ballroom dancing and singing in a choir. His latest foray into the unknown, however, trumps all of those, as the 59-year-old was tapped Thursday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to replace the beleaguered Cathleen Black as head of the city's 1.1 million-student school system.

If he is granted a waiver from the state Board of Regents, Mr. Walcott's new duties will involve grappling with the teachers union over seniority rules, coping with steep cuts to the Department of Education's budget and coming up with a plan to fix failing schools.

Mr. Walcott, who has served as a deputy mayor focused on education and youth policy since the beginning of the Bloomberg administration in 2002, brings to the job a résumé far more suited to the task than that of his predecessor, who was a top magazine executive but had no professional experience in the education field.

“There's no one who knows New York City public schools and the challenges we're facing today better than Dennis Walcott,” said Mr. Bloomberg at a press conference Thursday morning announcing the appointment. He said Mr. Walcott knows education from the perspectives of a student, teacher, parent and deputy mayor. He was also appointed by former Mayor David Dinkins to the old Board of Education in 1993, serving into the Giuliani administration.

Mr. Walcott, a lifelong resident of southeast Queens, said at the press conference announcing his appointment that his family comprised “four generations of public school students.” He's the son of immigrants from the Caribbean who both worked for the city. His mother was a social worker and his father an exterminator. “I'm just a guy from Queens whose parents were raised in Harlem,” he said.

He attended public schools, including Francis Lewis High School, in Fresh Meadows, Queens, where he was among an early group of black students to be brought in to help integrate what was then a predominantly white school.

“I think Dennis brings strengths that Cathie Black didn't have in terms of knowledge of the communities, particularly the communities that have been least served by the public schools,” said Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at New York University. “He has real skills in communication and I don't think he will have to be shielded from the press.”

But Mr. Noguera said that Mr. Walcott is not seen as a career educator and has never managed anything quite the size of the city's public school system, which has a $22 billion budget and about 121,000 employees.

“He will need to surround himself with some very capable people and sadly a lot of those people have left,” Mr. Noguera said. “So this is going to be a lot of work to build a team.” Four of the city's top eight education officials have left since Ms. Black was appointed last fall.

Before starting as deputy mayor, a position in which he oversaw the city's education reform, school construction, public housing and youth services initiatives, among other tasks, Mr. Walcott served as chief executive of the New York City Urban League for 12 years. He has two master's degrees—in education and social work—and taught kindergarten for two years at a day care center in South Jamaica.

Mr. Walcott, a father of four and grandfather of two, is known for an unflappable demeanor and solid listening skills. “Mr. Walcott has always been attentive and accessible, and he understands the issues facing our public schools,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

He'll need to employ those skills in dealing with the teachers union, which has publicly sparred with the Bloomberg administration over a bevy of issues, including the drive to do away with the “last in, first out” rule when it comes to layoffs.

“The city has the opportunity now to rethink its failed educational strategy,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “It should use this occasion to change its approach by emphasizing real learning, rather than test prep; to focus on fixing schools rather than closing them; and to stop making decisions based on ideology and to start listening to the parents and teachers who know what the kids in our schools need.”

But in his introductory remarks, Mr. Walcott seemed to indicate that not much would change under his leadership. “I'm a believer in what we do,” he said. “I'm a believer in reform.”

The New York Post

November 3, 1999, Wednesday



SECTION: Sport+Late City Final; Pg. 023

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The Board of Education is set to award a massive $9 million contract today to the New York Urban League in a deal aimed at getting parents to join "school leadership teams" to help run the city's 1,100 schools.

The unprecedented contract - $3 million a year for three years - is earmarked for a citywide campaign and media blitz to drum up interest in the teams and to train parents who sign up.

"This will cover five boroughs and reach parents of different racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds," said league president Dennis Walcott.

The money will pay for staff, educational forums, training sessions, an Internet site, public relations and advertising such as bus posters.

School leadership teams spring from the 1996 Governance Law, which gives Chancellor Rudy Crew broad powers over school boards and superintendents, and were supposed to be in place by Oct. 1.

Each team is to have 10 members - half parents and half school administrators and teachers. They will have input in educational plans, budgets and issues such as school uniforms and safety.

The Urban League has subcontracted with three groups for its Parent Leadership Program: the United Federation of Teachers; Aspira of New York, a Latino community organization; and the United Parent Associations.

Ernest Clayton, UPA president, said the $9 million to be spent by the board isn't enough.

"When it comes to teacher and principal development, they spend money like crazy," he said. "It's about time they try to make an attempt to treat parents well."






LOAD-DATE: November 3, 1999

Mayor Fires Chancellor Black
After 97 'Unsatisfactory' Days

By Henry J. Stern, April 7, 2011

We were surprised today to learn that Mayor Bloomberg dismissed his hand-picked Schools Chancellor, Cathie Black, after 97 infelicitous days as chief of New York City's school system. The mayor did not set a speed record, however, in dismissing a commissioner who did not work out.

That distinction falls to Mayor Edward I. Koch, who took just 74 days to fire Robert J. Milano, whom Koch had appointed Deputy Mayor for Economic Development at the start of his first term in 1978. Milano died in February 2000, and Koch said today that they parted ways because Milano wanted to expand his agency and Koch wanted to shrink it.

Ms. Black was never able to counter the wave of negative judgments that followed her appointment by Mayor Bloomberg on November 9, 2010, a scant hour after the departure of Joel I. Klein, who had set a record for length of service. Klein was chancellor for more than eight years, Bloomberg having appointed him on July 29, 2002. Ms. Black also set a record, for brevity of service.

In general, Mayor Bloomberg has been praised for the quality of his appointments to high city positions. He has a Committee on Appointments, led by the highly respected former Deputy Mayor (under Koch), Nat Leventhal. The Black selection was out of character and did not follow the normal pattern of vetting potential candidates. It is suspected that the mayor was more than willing to dispense with the services of Chancellor Klein, whose luster had been dimmed by Federal statistics indicating that the academic achievement of New York City students was not as great as Mr. Klein had led New Yorkers, including perhaps the mayor, to believe.

The beleaguered mayor deserves some credit for firing Ms. Black before she became a further embarrassment. He showed that he could dismiss his own appointees, even if that leads to the conclusion that he made an error in hiring them in the first place. It should also be pointed out that although this is the tenth year of his mayoralty, it is the first time that such an inappropriate appointment was made, and he corrected it on his own.

We were highly skeptical of the Black appointment from the start, and wrote about it twice. On November 10, we wrote, under the headline KLEIN OUT, BLACK IN. DOES SHE KNOW HOW TO TEACH THE 3R'S?:

"One would imagine that if one were seeking to fill the most important school superintendency in the United States, some person could be found who was both a brilliant manager and had some experience in public or private education. The appointment was not required to have been announced within minutes of the news of Joel Klein's resignation to enter the field of publishing."


"No truly independent screening panel of educators is likely to conclude that no experience whatsoever in their professional field is adequate preparation for the most difficult and complex job in local public education. If they felt that way, they would be expressing the view that their own professional qualifications had little value, and that any corporate executive could fill the positions they now hold...

"It could be said that the chancellor, a person whose importance is comparable to that of the police commissioner, should be a person of impeccable and undisputed credentials, a Horace Mann of the 21st century, if such a person could be found and persuaded to take the job. To select a chancellor with no background whatsoever in education is certainly a daring leap of faith."

The leap of faith has not led to a happy landing, and the plug has pitilessly been pulled on the publisher. President Kennedy and thousands of others have said that public service is the highest calling, if it is done wisely and well. If it is not, one finds another person to serve. The republic will endure. So will Ms. Black.

The task now falls on Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott. We have known him for many years, and we like and respect him. This will be the most challenging task he could possibly attempt. We hope he succeeds.

One piece of advice for Mr. Walcott: Call Diane Ravitch and Sol Stern. You don't have to do everything they say, but you should listen to them carefully. They can tell you a lot about the system for which you are now responsible. They are not bound by the mistakes of the past, and neither should you be. There are over a million children out there for whom you should be a great hope. Do everything you can not to let them down.

Cathie Black out as city schools chancellor after just three months on the job

April 7, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg’s embattled, hand-picked schools chancellor, Cathie Black, is out after just 96 days on the job.

One source said Bloomberg made the decision himself and told Black of it during a meeting this morning.

"He initiated the conversation," the source said.

Having no choice, Black agreed to go, the source added.

At a news conference at City Hall this morning, Bloomberg sugar-coated the decision, saying the two had "mutually agreed" it was time for her to go.

"I take full responsibility for the fact that this did not work out," he said.

Bloomberg said, "The story had really become about her and away from the kids and that's not right."

Despite that, Bloomberg also said he "thinks [Black] has done an admirable job."

"I have nothing but respect ... for the work she has done," he added.

Black will be replaced by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who has served as a cross between a chaperone and mentor to Black since the out-of-left-field announcement of her appointment was made Nov. 11.

The head of the teachers’ union sidestepped questions about his opinions of Black’s departure.

Asked what grade he’d give Black, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said, “She wasn’t in the class for a semester so it wouldn’t be correct for me to give her a grade.“

The former publishing executive’s brief tenure had been wracked by public gaffes, abysmal poll numbers and a steadily departing crew of top level cabinet officials.

Black, 66, who officially took over for former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in January, has been plagued by low approval ratings over the past few months.

Earlier this week, a NY1/Marist College poll showed that just 17 percent of New Yorkers think she was doing a good job, while 61 percent would give her a failing grade.

Black's approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll three weeks ago was a similarly abysmal 17 percent, with 49 percent wishing she'd leave.

Apparently, the sentiment was echoed by some inside the administration.

"This is very good news," said one mayoral insider. "The fallout from the Black appointment just got so untenable."

Black's brief tenure was marked by controversy from the get-go.

In January, Black, whose lack of education and government work had been controversial since her appointment, joked about using "birth control" to stem school overcrowding during a meeting with concerned Manhattan parents.

She also likened her hard choices to those of a Holocaust victim from the novel and movie "Sophie's Choice."

Black later personally apologized, but some people say she never quite rebounded from the fallout. Mayor Bloomberg defended her on that occasion.

"I think the comment she made to me and my neighborhood was the writing on the wall," said Community Board 1 chair Julie Menin.

At a meeting with students and parents in Brooklyn, Black again put her foot in her mouth.

As a chorus of boos greeted her at Brooklyn Tech HS this past February, Black mocked the crowd.

"I cannot speak if you are shouting," Black had said before mocking the crowd's response by repeating, "Ohhhhh."

Since Black took the helm of the nation's largest school system, four of the eight top deputies in place to support her have jumped ship -- include two just this week.

City Council Education Chairman Robert Jackson called Black’s sudden departure "a surprise," but he said it was "best overall for the city of New York and the children of New York City."

"I have high regards for Dennis Walcott," said Jackson. "I’ve known Dennis for over 20 years. "I know Dennis went to the public school system. I know as the deputy mayor he’s not going to lose his ground."

Black's replacement has plenty of education experience.

Walcott has worked as Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development and was a former kindergarten teacher in Queens.

After joining the Bloomberg administration in 2002, he was the President and CEO of the New York Urban League. Walcott graduated from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut with a Bachelor's degree and a Master of Education in 1973 and 1974, respectively, and in 1980, received his Master of Social Work from Fordham University.

Walcott, who served on the now-defunct Board of Education, said he is happy to have the job.

"I am a believer in reform and I am a believer in Mayor Bloomberg," he said.

Black this afternoon said she was happy and relieved, adding that she had gone out and bought a new pair of running shoes.

She also said she was happy to have served and praised Walcott.

Amber Sutherland contributed to this story

Goodbye, Cathie Black
Posted by Amy Davidson, April 7, 2011

There are many moments New Yorkers might focus on as they contemplate why Cathie Black, our improbable schools chancellor, is, as the Times reported, out already, just a few months after Mayor Bloomberg confused everyone by picking her. You don’t get a seventeen per cent approval rating without real effort.

But here’s my favorite, perhaps because it has to do with the particular zone my child is enrolled in, and also says something about the way the city has responded to the legacy of September 11th. As Black heard at a meeting with downtown parents (video above, via the Tribeca Tribune), the area around Ground Zero is, in many ways, doing inspiringly well: through some combination of resilience, urban stubborness, and construction-tax incentives, the population has doubled downtown. This means that the same schools that were evacuated on September 11th are now badly overcrowded. My child’s school, with many more kindergarteners than fifth graders, resembles one of those developing countries in which half the population is under the age of eighteen. Black’s answer?

Can we just have some birth control for once? It would really help us all out.

After some nervous laughter, a parent repeats that he’s talking about children who are already born. Black says, in effect, that things are tough all around—even on the Upper East side.

It is—and I don’t mean this in any flip way—it is many Sophie’s Choices.

Holocaust metaphors are rarely a good idea. The head of a public-school system using one that involves picking one child for the Nazis to send to the gas chambers—which was Sophie’s choice in the novel—is really not a good idea. I’ll be curious to see what Black does next.

Retrospective: The Cathie Black Gaffe-A-Thon

From verbal gaffes to losing her temper, Cathie Black added fuel to her critics' fire soon after Mayor Bloomberg appointed her chancellor, reports our Education Team's Meredith Kolodner:

Public outrage accompanied her November appointment to replace outgoing chancellor Joel Klein, taking the form of public protests and a lawsuit to deny her the state waiver she needed to become chancellor.

But barely two weeks after her handlers released her from a month-long seclusion from public questions and interviews, she stepped into controversy.

At a meeting about massive overcrowding in lower Manhattan schools, the new chancellor, whose own children never attended public school, asked parents, "Could we just have some birth control for a while?...It would really help us."

There was more to come.

Hundreds of parents booed her at the next school policy meeting, waving condoms. Black managed to keep her cool through the meeting, but revealed her lack of familiarity with school matters by referring to long-time panel member Patrick Sullivan as "Mr. Cunningham."

At the next public meeting, where she was booed again, she let her annoyance get the best of her. She responded to the hecklers by mocking them, screwing up her face and mimicking them, "Oooooh." The clip played continuously on local television stations.

Her public appearances began to dwindle, and she was flanked wherever she did go by deputy mayor Dennis Walcott, who stepped into taking the substantial questions.

She further alienated principals, who complained she was not as responsive to emails as Klein had been, when she refused to overturn a decision to take half the money principals had saved for next year in anticipation of budget cuts.

By Monday, Cathie Black clocked in with an approval rating of 17%.

Some saw the writing on the wall early. The first deputy chancellor to jump ship - Photeine Anagnostopoulos, deputy chancellor for finance and technology - left the agency the day after Black was appointed.

Eric Nadelstern, who was essentially number two in command under Klein, resigned in January. He was followed by well-regarded veteran Santiago Taveras and wunderkind John White this week.


Nov. 9, 2010 - Schools Chancellor Joel Klein abruptly steps down, and city officials announce magazine exec Cathie Black as his surprisingly replacement. Since she lacks the proper education background, she'll require a waiver from the state Education Department.

Nov. 23, 2010 - An advisory board created by State Education Commissioner David Steiner gave a thumb's down to Black, unless a chief academic officer is appointed.

Nov. 26, 2010 - Mayor Bloomberg caves and appoints Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky as chief academic officer.

Nov. 29, 2010 - Steiner grants Black the necessary waiver. "I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get going," she says.

Dec. 8, 2010 - A group of public school parents sued the state for granting Black the waiver, saying Steiner "acted unlawfully." An Albany judge affirmed Steiner's right to to make the call several weeks later.

Jan. 2, 2011 - On her first official day on the job, Black tours a school in each borough. "For me, this is a dream. It's a dream job, a dream opportunity, a chance to make a difference," she said.

Jan. 13, 2011 - Black's joke at a parent meeting about overcrowding bombed. "Could we just have some birth control for a while?" she asked.

Jan. 19, 2011 - Parents at an education policy meeting waved condoms at her in protest.

Feb. 1, 2011 - At another contentious meeting, Black lost her temper and replied "oooh" at parents who booed her.

April 4, 2011 - Deputy chancellor Santiago Taveras steps down, the third to leave during Black's brief tenure. An an NY1/Marist poll shows her approval rating is a dismal 17 %.

April 6, 2011 - Deputy chancellor John White announces he will also leave for a job heading New Orleans public schools.

April 7, 2011 - Black steps down.

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation