Black out, Walcott mayor’s pick for schools chancellor

April 18, 2011 Helen Klein
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Brooklynites are rolling out the welcome mat for Dennis Walcott,who is poised to be the new schools chancellor upon the surpriseresignation of embattled Chancellor Cathie Black.

Black tendered her resignation on Thursday, just days after her 17percent approval rating in a recent Marist-NY1 poll madeheadlines.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the announcement, while simultaneouslyannouncing the selection of Walcott, now a deputy mayor, to head upthe Department of Education (DOE).

I have nothing but respect for Cathie, but we both agree it is inthe city’s best interest if she steps down as chancellor, themayor said, as he sang Walcott’s praises. I think he has all thequalifications to be a chancellor, Bloomberg said, emphasizingthat Walcott had been a key part of and a leader on all of oureducation reform initiatives.

Walcott, a former member of the Board of Education who willcontinue to serve as deputy mayor till he is confirmed aschancellor by the Board of Regents, said he was committed toimproving the city’s school system. I am determined to ensure thatwe deliver what our parents expect and desire, a higher qualityeducation, he said.

Like Black, Bloomberg noted, Walcott needs a waiver from the NewYork State Education Commissioner. But, he said, I’m optimisticwe’ll get that.

Bloomberg’s optimism appears well-founded. While Black – who had noeducation background — faced a firestorm of opposition virtuallyfrom the moment the mayor selected her to replace then-SchoolsChancellor Joel Klein in November, preliminary response to Walcotthas been overwhelmingly positive, even from those who opposedBlack’s selection.

City Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who represents Flatbush, wasone of Black’s most vocal critics. Immediately after Black’sresignation was announced, he praised Bloomberg for step[ping] upand address[ing] what the vast majority of New York City residentshave been complaining about, adding, I look forward to workingwith Deputy Mayor Walcott, someone with considerable experience ineducation, appropriate education credentials and understanding ofNew York City policy.

Williams’ positive comments about Walcott were echoed by otherelected officials.

I join all of Brooklyn and our borough’s 300,000 public schoolstudents and their families in wholeheartedly welcoming DennisWalcott, a proud son of New York City and product of the publicschool system, educator, and perhaps most importantly, parent andgrandparent, as New York City’s schools chancellor, said BoroughPresident Marty Markowitz.

I believe, based on his experience and his ability to work withdiverse constituencies, that Dennis has the potential to be anexcellent chancellor, added Councilmember Vincent Gentile.

There were a few post-mortems, nonetheless, on Black’s brief,stormy tenure.

She shouldn’t have been picked in the first place, remarkedAssemblymember Peter Abbate of the business executive who lastedjust three months in the chancellor’s post. She wasn’t up to thejob, and all of us who came out in the beginning and said she was abad choice have been vindicated.

Members of the Deny Waiver Coalition agreed. In an email statementthey pointed out, The Deny Waiver Coalition is proud to havecontinuously highlighted the fact that the mayor ‘had no clothes’when it came to this appointment. The Deny Waiver Coalition hasnever wavered in its demand that an appropriate individual serve aschancellor – an individual whose experience in educationsubstantially exceeds the minimum criteria for the position.

Local parent reaction was mixed. I think it was Bloomberg’sopinion that [the Department of Education] needed an organizationalexpert, remarked Yoketing Eng, the president of the District 21Community Education Council. A lot of people that I’ve spoken toin the education side think that [her resignation] is good becauseshe lacks any education experience.

At least one person, however, said she felt sorry for Black. Insome ways, she was set up to fail, remarked Doreen Daly, thepresident of the District 20 Presidents Council. Nobody reallygave her a chance. On the other hand, things are moving so rapidlyat the Department of Education and there have been so many changes,that we really do need someone more familiar with education and theneeds of children In the city.

When contacted for comment, the Department of Education deferred tothe mayor’s office.

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