NYC schools chancellor pick will get waiver, official says

Foes and supporters of Black's appointment have lobbied Mayor Bloomberg since the Nov. 8 announcement.

New York’s state education commissioner will grant media executive Cathie Black a waiver to serve as chancellor of New York City schools, an official with knowledge of the decision told the Associated Press (AP) on Nov. 26.

The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.

The decision opens the door for the Hearst Magazines chairwoman to succeed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who is leaving to take a job with News Corp. The 66-year-old Black needed the waiver because she does not have a background in education.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had been criticized over his decision to appoint the noneducator to the position, but several high-profile women had endorsed his choice, including Whoopi Goldberg and Gloria Steinem, with whom Black worked at Ms. magazine in the 1970s.

“We are delighted that the largest public school system in the country will, for the first time, be headed by a woman — and in Cathie Black we have an extraordinarily qualified and visionary leader,” the prominent women said. “We urge you to grant the necessary waiver for this historic appointment.”

In a Nov. 26 letter, Bloomberg said Black would appoint 38-year-old Shael Polakow-Suransky, a former teacher and a member of Klein’s administration, to serve as senior deputy chancellor and chief academic officer.

The official told the AP that Education Commissioner David M. Steiner would grant the waiver on Nov. 29.

An advisory panel appointed to weigh Black’s qualifications to serve as chancellor of New York City schools had recommended that Steiner deny the waiver that would allow her to serve as chancellor.

Steiner had previously suggested he might be willing to grant a waiver to Black if a second-in-command with academic experience were to be chosen.

Under Black, Polakow-Suransky will be tasked with overseeing the schools’ instructional programs and the implementation of major educational policies, the mayor said in his letter to Steiner. Polakow-Suransky will also advise the chancellor on policy issues relating to curriculum, testing, evaluation, and more.

Currently, he serves under Klein as the deputy chancellor for performance and accountability, overseeing school evaluation and capacity building.

A Quinnipiac University Poll showed New Yorkers believed by a 2-1 margin that Black was not qualified for the job. The poll found that 51 percent of city voters believed Black did not have the right experience to serve as schools chancellor.

Just 26 percent said Black did have the experience for the job, and 23 percent were undecided.

Asked specifically about Black’s appointment, 47 percent said they disapproved and 29 percent approved. Twenty-five percent were undecided.

“If it was a public vote, thumbs down,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The survey of 1,287 New York City registered voters was conducted Nov. 16-21. A Bloomberg spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the poll.

Foes and supporters of Black’s appointment had been lobbying the mayor since he announced Nov. 8 that he had picked the businesswoman to lead the schools.

An advisory panel appointed to weigh the qualifications of Black to head New York City schools on Nov. 23 recommended denying a waiver that would allow the noneducator to serve as chancellor of the country’s largest school system.

Last week, former mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani sent Steiner a letter in support of Black.

Thousands of New Yorkers have signed online petitions opposing the waiver for Black, and some City Council members and state legislators have urged Steiner not to grant the waiver.

Bloomberg has said that Black is the right person to raise achievement levels for New York’s 1.1 million public school students because of her track record as a top media executive.

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