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NYC's Bloomberg starts pattern with schools chief

By Karen Matthews

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 10 2010 4:45 p.m. MST

NEW YORK — The new chancellor of the nation's largest public school system attended Catholic schools as a child, sent her children to a private boarding school, and lists her service on a charter-school advisory board as her only educational-leadership pedigree.

If Hearst Magazines Chairwoman Cathie Black's predecessor — also a non-educator but credited with improving New York City schools — is any example, that hole in the resume doesn't disqualify her.

Her appointment this week as New York schools chancellor "seems to be a continuation of Mayor Bloomberg's predisposition toward choosing people that he views as good managers regardless of their expertise in education," said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College.

A billionaire media entrepreneur himself, Michael Bloomberg had no experience in government when he first ran for mayor in 2001. He's now in his third term.

Like his 2002 appointment of outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein, Bloomberg's choice of Black reflects his conviction that private-sector savvy is the best qualification for a leadership role in city administration.

Klein, a lawyer who served as an assistant U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration, had no background in education when he took over the department in 2002. During his eight-year tenure, he closed 91 underperforming schools, opened 474 new ones and ended so-called social promotion for failing students.

Bloomberg and Klein said rising scores on standardized tests proved their methods were working, but state education officials said in the spring that student progress on the statewide tests had been overstated because the tests had become too easy.

Unlike Black, raised in Chicago, Klein grew up in New York City and attended public schools. As chancellor, he often clashed with unions and with parent groups that complained of being denied a role in running the schools.

Black's appointment to the $250,000-a-year job will require a waiver from the state Education Department because she is not an educator. She will take over when Klein leaves before the new year to take a position with News Corp.

Reformers who share Bloomberg's tough-love education philosophy said her background is a plus.

"Having someone who doesn't have an education background is essential," said Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform, an organization that supports charter schools and education vouchers. "When you've been in the system you tend to believe, even if you're critical of systems, that they're there for a reason. We need someone who is willing to start fresh."

Other non-traditional leaders of public school systems in recent years have included former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, superintendent of Los Angeles schools from 2001 to 2006, and Mark Roosevelt, a former Massachusetts state legislator who led Pittsburgh schools.

"You have systems in America where you cannot maintain the status quo," said philanthropist Eli Broad, whose foundation donates millions of dollars to U.S. schools. "You need change. You need fresh thinking."

As New York City's chancellor, Black will be charged with improving test scores and graduation rates while handling difficult negotiations with the teachers union, whose contract expired more than a year ago.

Union leaders greeted her appointment with cautious optimism.

"I look forward to working with Ms. Black, teachers union head Michael Mulgrew said. "As a teacher, I will help in any way I can to improve the education for the children of New York."

Principals union head Ernest Logan said he would read Black's 2007 book, "Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)."

Black, who was president of USA Today for eight years starting in 1983, wrote in her book about meeting the newspaper's staff.

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