Publishing exec to lead nation’s largest school system

Publishing executive Cathie Black will head the 1.1 million-student New York City public education system.

In another striking example of the belief that public education should be run more like a business, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has named a top publishing executive with no background in education to head the nation’s largest school system after announcing Nov. 9 that the city’s longtime chancellor was stepping down.

Hearst Magazines chairwoman Cathie Black will become the first female chancellor of the city’s 1.1 million-student public education system, replacing Joel I. Klein, who has served as chancellor since 2002. Klein is leaving to become an executive vice president at News Corp., the company behind Fox News.

Bloomberg praised Black, a Chicago native who spent eight years at USA Today as president, publisher, board member, and Gannett Co. executive vice president, as a “world-class manager.” The billionaire mayor, who often eschews traditional resumes for government posts, said Black’s business skills make her an ideal leader of educators and students.

“She understands that we have to make sure that our kids have the skill sets to partake in the great American dream,” Bloomberg said. “In the end, I picked somebody who I have confidence is the right person for this job at this time.”

The appointment will require a waiver from the state Department of Education, because Black is not a certified teacher. The mayor said Klein will stay on until the end of the year.

Black has never been involved in public education before. She attended parochial schools in Chicago and sent her own children to private boarding schools in Connecticut.

She has been on Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” list and is the author of a book called Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life). She will be the first woman to lead New York City’s public education system.

At Hearst, she oversees titles including Esquire; Good Housekeeping; O, the Oprah magazine; and Popular Mechanics.

Black’s appointment reflects Bloomberg’s view that success in business translates to similar achievements in public service.

“There is no one who knows more about the skills our children will need to succeed in the 21st-century economy,” Bloomberg said at a City Hall news conference with Klein and Black.

Klein, too, became chancellor without having worked in public education. Before he joined the Bloomberg administration, Klein was with media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG. Previously, he was an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration. He headed the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division for nearly four years, where his work included launching the case to break up Microsoft Corp.

Unlike Black, however, Klein grew up in New York City and attended public schools.

As chancellor, he often clashed with unions and with parent groups that complained of being denied a role in running the schools.

“Many parents will be glad to see Joel Klein leave as chancellor, who had no respect for their views or priorities,” said Leonie Haimson, who leads a parent advocacy group called Class Size Matters.

Ernest Logan, the president of the union that represents New York City principals, said Klein “had a rocky road” as chancellor but learned on the job.

Logan said he knows little about Black. “I’m now going to read her book,” he said.

Teachers union head Michael Mulgrew said: “I look forward to working with Ms. Black. As a teacher, I will help in any way I can to improve the education for the children of New York.”

Black told reporters she has had “limited exposure to unions” in her previous jobs. She’ll have to learn quickly: Among her many challenges will be to oversee a new contract with teachers, because the city’s teachers have been working under an expired contract for months.

Klein was appointed chancellor after Bloomberg won control of the city’s public education system and disbanded the Board of Education. Bloomberg and Klein have touted the progress that students have made under their watch, but the state Education Department said last summer that rising scores on standardized tests had been overstated because the tests had become too easy.

Black will likely serve no longer than the three years remaining in Bloomberg’s term.

“She’s had a career, so maybe she can have the ability to devote the next three years to public service,” Bloomberg said.

In his new role with News Corp., Klein will advise the company on opportunities to invest in digital education initiatives, according to the Wall Street Journal. Education is an area of interest for News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who believes the sector is “ripe for innovation,” a person familiar with the matter told the newspaper.

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