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Schools Chancellor Cathie Black Replaced By Dennis Walcott

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Schools Chancellor Cathie Black Replaced By Dennis Walcott
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After just three months at the helm, embattled Schools Chancellor Cathie Black stepped down Thursday and was replaced by Deputy Mayor and former Board of Education President Dennis Walcott.

The unexpected move, which was first reported on NY1, was officially announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a Thursday morning press conference at City Hall.



The mayor said he is disappointed Black's appointment didn't work out, but that the two agreed the issue had been a distraction for the city's school system.

"She loves New York and wants to do what's right for the families and students that we serve," said Bloomberg. "She and I met this morning and we have mutually agreed that it is in the city's best interests if she steps down as chancellor. I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out as either of us had hoped or expected."

Interviewed later in the day outside her Upper East Side home, a smiling Black said she felt "fine" about the transition.

"It's been a great privilege to serve the city of New York and the mayor for three months," Black said. "I have loved the principals and the teachers and the kids. Dennis Walcott is a great guy. We have a wonderful relationship and I wish everybody the best."

Shortly after the mayor's press conference, Walcott met with Department of Education officials at their headquarters in Tweed Courthouse.

He was met with tremendous applause, and some staffers saying they were happy and relieved with the change in leadership.

"I want to start right away," said Walcott. "I'm eager to get on the case as far as what all of us are doing. My goal is to reach out to our parents and to make sure that that happens."

Walcott, who attended public school in Queens, praised his predecessor, saying he thinks the world of her.

Black, a former publishing executive, was appointed late last year by Bloomberg and took over when Joel Klein stepped down in January.

"I have no illusion about this being an easy next three years," said Black at the time, with little inkling that her term would be much shorter.

The former Hearst Magazines chairwoman faced immediate criticism from parent groups due to her lack of educational experience, and experienced a tumultuous three months in office.

A recent NY1/Marist poll showed just 17 percent of voters surveyed said Black is doing an excellent or a good job.

The mayor argued that the city was getting a superstar manager, but it did little to sway critics who were also incensed by the mayor's secretive selection process and heckled Black at community meetings.

Black also had a series of public gaffes. In January, she joked to parents at P.S. 108 in Brooklyn that birth control might help solve school overcrowding.

The following month, she mocked an angry crowd at a public meeting.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said the change in leadership should be used as an opportunity to focus less on politics and more on helping students learn.

"It always has to be about what's important for the children, and that's figuring out ways to support them and the schools, and to listen to parents and engage them in a more meaningful way with education," said Mulgrew. "It doesn't matter to me who the chancellor is. I would prefer, it would be helpful, if we have someone we can work with."

With the department facing major cuts and a long list of failing schools, an education expert said Black's sudden departure reveals a failure in leadership on the part of both Black and the mayor.

"It's a real problem if the only person who vetted that decision was Mayor Bloomberg. And he was adamant, and he fought, to insist that she was qualified for the job. And clearly we have reason to doubt that now," said New York University Professor of Teaching and Learning Pedro Noguera. "So I think Mayor Bloomberg needs to be held accountable for that decision."

Others said the departure may lead to more concerns about the mayor's control over city schools.

Many city parents and students said they were excited about Black's resignation, but others said that the chancellor did not have a sufficient opportunity.

"I was kind of pretty bummed it seemed like she was nice and that she was focused, but she barely had the chance before they kind of dropped her," said Upper East parent Christine Zellmer.

"Where her educational background was concerned, I was a bit uncertain of what progress she would make. But it's good now she's out and we can move on positively," said a Queens parent.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she is excited about Walcott's appointment.

The speaker thanked Black for her service, and said she looks forward to working with the new appointee.

"He's somebody I've known for quite a long time," said Quinn. "I worked with him closely at his prior position at the Urban League. He's somebody who has had children in the public school system, who has had children in the public system, who has dedicated really his entire life to working on behalf of New York City's children, and I think he will do a very good job and I really look forward to working with him."

City Councilman Robert Jackson said he too supported the mayor's new choice. He chairs the education committee Black had been scheduled to appear before Thursday.

"Overall, the fact that she's brand new, and knowing she was going to be in front of a hearing, the preliminary budget hearing where we were going to be asking her direct questions as chancellor. And quite frankly, I think the mayor has made the right decision." Jackson said.

Thursday's news came just hours after another high-profile member of the Department of Education -- Deputy Chancellor John White -- announced he was leaving.

Walcott's appointment still needs approval from the state, as he does not have a formal superintendent's license.

The mayor said he spoke with state officials and expects a waiver to be granted quickly.

The departure of Black surprised many political observers, as Bloomberg has a track record of standing by top officials in his administration, even when they come under intense criticism.

He stood by his transportation commissioner and the city's child welfare chief in recent weeks, as they faced their own controversies.

However, the mayor has staked his reputation on improving the city's schools.

The same NY1/Marist poll that found Black has a very low approval rating also found that only 27 percent of respondents approved of how Bloomberg handles the city's schools, compared to 65 percent who disapproved.

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