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Cathie Black Poised to be Schools Chancellor as Mayor Agrees to State's Conditions

By DNAinfo Staff on November 26, 2010 5:35pm  | Updated on November 27, 2010 9:14am

Cathie Black will be New York City's next schools chancellor.
Cathie Black will be New York City's next schools chancellor.
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Hearst Corporation

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — Cathie Black is poised to become the next schools chancellor after Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to a compromise with the state that would have a "chief academic officer" with extensive education experience serve by her side.

Black will receive the state waiver she needs to take charge Monday, an official close to the issue confirmed.

The mayor sent a letter to State Education Commissioner David Steiner Friday informing him that when Black takes office, she will appoint Shael Polakow-Suransky, the current deputy chancellor for performance and accountability, to serve as her senior deputy chancellor and chief academic officer.

Steiner had suggested the idea of appointing a second-in-command to guide Black on Tuesday amid serious concerns over her lack of experience, and had indicated that he would reject her appointment without the concession.
The Hearst Magazines executive needs the waiver because she lacks the education credentials required by law.
"Ms. Black’s decision to appoint Mr. Polakow-Suransky… as her senior deputy reflects her commitment to a leadership principle that I view as absolutely essential to running any large organization…: empowering those around you," Bloomberg wrote in the 10-page supplement to his waiver request, which included the new position's job description as well as a reiteration of his confidence in Black.


Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his choice for new Schools Chancellor, Cathie Black.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his choice for new Schools Chancellor, Cathie Black.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Polakow-Suransky will report directly to Black and be responsible for the "administration and supervision of the school system's instructional programs" and the "development and implementation of major educational policies and practices," according to the letter.

He would also serve as chief advisor on policy issues related to curriculum, education reform, testing, staff development, parental involvement and the arts, the letter said.

Teacher's Union President Michael Mulgrew seemed to approve of the selection of Polakow-Suransky

 "We've worked well with Mr. Polakow-Suransky in the past, and we look forward to working with him and Ms. Black in the future on the critical issues the school system faces — including reducing the focus on test prep and on better academic intervention for students who are falling behind," Mulgrew said in an e-mailed statement.

But already some expressed skepticism with the plan, which comes as a blow to the mayor, who repeatedly insisted Black was qualified for the job.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said he feared the power-sharing would create confusion in the city's Education Department.

"A 'Chief Academic Officer' charged with responsibility to oversee teaching, learning and accountability? Isn't that what the Chancellor is supposed to do?" he asked in a statement released Friday.

Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, which has been staunchly against Black’s appointment, accused Steiner of betraying his role as commissioner and questioned whether Black can legally be approved based on someone else's credentials.

He is planning to meet with lawyers Saturday to discuss potential legal action against the state.

"This is an act of cowardice on Commissioner Steiner’s part," he said. "They have functionally repealed the law."

Baruch College professor and polititcal expert Doug Muzzio said the deal has left Bloomberg bruised, but that Steiner was the one who ultimately gave in by making Black boss.

"Mike Bloomberg suffers a setback but ultimately gets his way," Muzzio said.

On Tuesday, an eight-member advisory panel appointed by the state voted 4-2 against granting Black  the waiver request. Two of the eight voted in favor of Steiner's compromise solution involving a second in command.

A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment on the deal.

Bloomberg has said the law requiring waivers for chancellors without education experience should be abolished.