Cathie Black Has Been to the South Bronx, ‘And That’s About As Realistic As You Can Get’

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

Coming from the lofty if vicious world of magazines as a Hearst exec, incoming city schools chancellor Cathie Black was initially rejected for the gig, probably based on lack of experience. So now that she's in, Black's on "a whirlwind" two-week tour of city schools in order to prepare for the job. But will that really help her understand the needs of city schools? City Room notes that Black spent only about 45 minutes at most schools, "moving quickly through the classrooms, accompanied by a small entourage." The blog reports:


Ms. Black, who officially starts work Jan. 3, acknowledged that she had not yet seen any failing schools, but said she planned to go when her schedule allowed. “I’ve been to the South Bronx, and that’s about as realistic as you can get,” Ms. Black said, referring to her visit to P.S. 109, an “A”-ranked school where she read to first graders.


Over all, she said, she has been very impressed: “I have kiddingly said we could eat lunch off the floors of every single school I have been to."

An assistant principal at Medgar in Crown Heights said Black's visit “doesn’t do us justice.” She explained: "It's hard to capture a school in a few minutes. You really have to spend some more time with us." The principal of the same school said he did not have time to get into the details of his educational philosophy with Black, like how important it is to focus on sports and the arts, as well as academics: “She needs to hear this more,” he said. “I think the focus is wrong. But I’m not at that level yet where I can advise the chancellor." Presumably tongue-in-cheek, he added: "I’m only a little principal here in Crown Heights.”

Sounds like she's connecting great with everybody, and there are no concerns that she's out of touch with inner-city schools after having worked in a literal glass tower for the past ten years. Take her interaction with Crown Heights sixth graders, for example:


Kept to a tight schedule, there was little room to improvise. But at one point, she used her own experiences as an executive at Hearst Magazines to relate.


After watching a short dance performance in Mandarin class ... she told a class of about 20 sixth graders. "Some of you may not know this, but I have been in magazine publishing, and we have a company in Shanghai and Beijing, and we publish seven magazines in China. So maybe someday one of you will have a good job at a magazine in China. Good luck to you all, and keep studying.”

New Chancellor Getting Up to Speed, in a Hurry [City Room/NYT]
Principal says new schools head Cathie Black isn't spending enough time in city schools [NYDN]