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State Education Commissioner Grants Waiver For Cathie Black

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The head of the State Education Department Monday granted Cathie Black the waiver necessary to become the city's next Schools Chancellor.

Under the controversial deal, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's pick will be allowed to lead the school system with a deputy chancellor serving as her second in command.

In a 12 page letter, State Education Commissioner David Steiner explained in great detail why he decided to give the publishing executive with no education experience a waiver to lead the nation's largest school system.

In it, he says, "Despite her lack of direct experience in education, I find that Ms. Black’s exceptional record of successfully leading complex organizations and achievement of excellence in her endeavors, warrant certification for service in the New York City School District, where she will have the support of a team of experience educators, including a single person serving as Senior Deputy Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer.”

Black, who spoke exclusively with NY1 outside her home Monday night, said she's looking forward to starting her new job and predicted she will win over those who claim she lacks the right experience.

"They’ll get to know me, I’m about them, I’m about parents, I’m about their children, Black said. "We want the best schools we possibly can have and the best education we can have for the kids. So...onward."

Shael Polakow-Suransky, 38, who currently the city's deputy chancellor for accountability and performance, will serve as Black's senior deputy chancellor and chief academic officer.


Polakow-Suranksy has all of the education credentials Black lacks. He was a teacher, a principal, and has held several different jobs at the Department of Education.

A former DOE official tells NY1 he is generally well respected – even by some of the strongest critics of Bloomberg and Klein, including the teachers union leadership. They also say Polakow-Suranksy has a reputation as someone willing to listen and admit when things are not working or could be better.

While speaking to reporters earlier in the day, the mayor said Black will be the one calling the shots.

"I think it's be inappropriate to speak while we're waiting for the panel, for David Steiner to act, but there will be one person in charge, make no mistake about that," Bloomberg said.

The Department of Education is also standing by the mayor and Black, saying, "It's time to put our politics aside and recognize that it's in all our kids' interest for Cathie Black to succeed as our next Chancellor."

Meantime, there are still questions about how the arrangement will work as well as its legality. State law says the waiver must be based on Black's qualifications and experience.

Several lawmakers and parent groups have already said they plan to sue to block the appointment.

"We're prepared to take the fight to court, to block this waiver from being executed and to stop Mrs. Black from becoming the next chancellor," said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn.

“The rules spell out specific educational requirements,” said Civil Rights attorney Norman Siegel at a rally Sunday outside of Tweed Courthouse. “We believe Cathie doesn't meet those requirements. The commissioner will have to justify why he has given the waiver and if the justification has no basis in the law. We can go to court."

Many parents who spoke with NY1 say they are also giving Black's appointment a thumbs down.

"I have no doubt that she may be a good woman, but I do think that she should have the experience to be the chancellor for the entire New York City school district," said one city parent.

"She has zero public education experience. I mean she doesn't even have the experience of having a student in a public school setting, a son in the public school setting, so I'm sad about it," said another.

Parents who do support Black's appointment, say they trust the mayor's judgment and believe the school system needs a big change.

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