Wall Street Journal: Deal Is Reached for Schools Chancellor
By Barbara Martinez and Michael Howard Saul
November 27, 2010
The mayor and the state education commissioner reached an agreement that paves the way for Cathie Black to become chancellor of the nation's largest school system, people familiar with the situation said.
In a letter dated Friday to David Steiner, the state's education commissioner, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote that if Mr. Steiner grants Ms. Black the waiver she needs to become chancellor, she will appoint a deputy chancellor at the city Department of Education, Shael Polakow-Suransky, as her senior deputy chancellor and chief academic officer.
The move ends the impasse between City Hall and the state, coming days after Mr. Steiner raised concerns about Ms. Black's qualifications. Ms. Black, 66 years old, has spent her career in the publishing business. The mayor has touted her management skills as the reason he chose her to lead the 1,500-school system.
"This is the product of an extensive dialogue between the state and the city about the concerns raised," said a state official familiar with the negotiations. "The feeling is that it substantially addresses those concerns."
The resolution averts a major defeat for the mayor, who has seen a number of his administration's high-profile initiatives—such as a West Side stadium and tolling vehicles entering Manhattan—foiled by Albany politics.
Some view the development as a victory for Mr. Bloomberg.
Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, said the mayor "ultimately got what he wants."
"The mayor wisely acceded to this; otherwise he didn't get Black....This other person is going to report to Black. So Black is the boss," Mr. Muzzio said. "He still has a black eye—he looks imperious. He looks like he doesn't care about what people think. His attitude is 'my way or the highway.' Now, in this case, he confronted a situation that he just couldn't ignore and wisely bowed to it but essentially he still got his way."
Mr. Polakow-Suransky's credentials are steeped in education theory and experience. His bachelor's degree is in education and urban studies from Brown University, and he holds a master's degree in educational leadership from the Bank Street College of Education. He also graduated from the prestigious Broad Superintendents Academy.
Mr. Polakow-Suransky, 38, began his career as a math and social-studies teacher, and in 2001 became founding principal of Bronx International High School, among the first of the city's successful small high schools created from large, underperforming high schools.
Mr. Bloomberg's letter said Mr. Polakow-Suransky "has proven again and again that it's possible to accelerate learning for every student."
The letter includes a two-page description of the new job, stating that the candidate will be "charged with the responsibility for the administration and supervision of the school system's instructional programs."
Most recently, Mr. Polakow-Suransky has been in charge of the schools' accountability efforts, which assign letter grades to schools based on their students' performance on state tests as well as other measures.
While the appointment of a chief academic officer may appease Mr. Steiner, some others are still unmoved.
State Sen.-elect Tony Avella, a critic of the mayor's education policies who encouraged Mr. Steiner to deny the waiver, said he is disappointed with the resolution.
"We still have somebody who is not an educator running the ship," he said.
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat and a lawyer by trade, said he is considering filing a lawsuit to block the waiver.
"We need a chancellor who stands on his/her own merit, not one who needs to be ushered around the Department of Education by an academic chauffeur," Mr. Jeffries said. "The law does not permit Commissioner Steiner to grant a waiver based on the educational or professional credentials of someone other than the applicant."
City Council member Robert Jackson, chairman of the council's education committee and a critic of mayoral control over the schools, said he's worried that Ms. Black may ignore Mr. Polakow-Suransky's advice on pedagogical issues. If that happens, Mr. Jackson predicted, "all hell is going to break loose."
Others, however, are eager to move on.
Council member Jessica Lappin, a Manhattan Democrat and a longtime supporter of mayoral control, said she is pleased this ends the uncertainty about whether Ms. Black will be the next schools chief.
"We have a lot of issues to deal with," she said.
"This is what mayoral control means—ultimately it's having one person who is in charge and accountable," Ms. Lappin said. "If this is who he thinks is the best woman for the job then I look forward to working with her."