U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that incoming New York City schools Chancellor Cathie Black “has the potential to be a fantastic leader” and he will do everything he can to support her, the Associated Press reports. Duncan met later with Black, a publishing executive who has been a controversial choice to lead the nation’s largest school system because she has no background as an educator. City Department of Education spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said the two discussed a number of education issues, including the city’s plans to implement the state’s winning Race to the Top federal education reform grant proposal.

“I think she’s going to do a great job, and I’m going to do whatever I can to be a good partner and to help her be successful,” Duncan said before the meeting. Duncan, who led Chicago’s public school system before President Barack Obama tapped him for a Cabinet post, was in New York for an announcement about an initiative to improve GED programs. Asked whether Black would be handicapped by her lack of conventional education credentials, Duncan said, “There are challenges whether you’re conventional or unconventional. Anyone coming to this job has a huge learning curve.”

He added, “In Chicago I worked for the previous superintendent before I got the job. … I sort of thought I knew it, and when I got there I had no idea how big my learning curve was.”

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staff and wire services reports