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NYC Choice Sets New Benchmark for Education Leaders
posted by: Alix | November 12, 2010, 02:44 PM   

This week New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Joel Klein was stepping down as school chancellor after eight years. Often hailed a hero in education reform circles, Klein's resignation comes just a month after fellow reformer Michelle Rhee resigned her post as chancellor in Washington, D.C. Klein's replacement is Cathleen P. Black, a publishing executive who once led USA Today. This announcement is on par with the recent trend in mayor led schools systems choosing business leaders and executives instead of traditional teaching veterans.

The notion of who can run a public school system has shifted drastically in the past ten years, as lawyers, bankers and budget experts with little to no teaching or education experience have been tapped to serve as chancellors and superintendents all over the country.

Ms. Black, although obviously a successful professional, brings little experience in public education or unions. She and her children are products of private schools. She serves on a charter school advisory board yet has not attended any meetings. She has, however, participated in a mentoring day with Michelle Obama in Detroit and served as "principal for a day" in a school in the South Bronx.

Critics of the choice are worried that with little experience, Ms. Black will not be able to connect with New York City teachers or deal with the behemoth AFT presence. When asked about the mayor's choice, Joseph P. Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College stated, "I don't know how far is too far, but it's certainly pushing the envelope. What lies ahead for her is as much political as it is managerial or education related."

Others argue that her managerial experience is the key to success in running the school system. "This is a very smart woman. She knows what she knows, she knows what she doesn't know, and I'm sure she will assemble a team that will make her comfortable in the role," stated Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the State Board of Regents.

Cathleen Black still needs to meet approval by the New York state education department before taking the position because she does not have a master's degree, professional certificate as a school district leader, or teaching experience. She would be the first woman to hold the office if approved.

Michael J. Petrilli, an analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, said, "Joel Klein and other nontraditional superintendents have demonstrated that you don't have to be an educator to be successful, and [Black's] management savvy will be needed when it's time to right-size the district."

Clearly these nontraditional choices can prove to be successful, taking into consideration successful examples like Klein and Michelle Rhee. These nontraditional education chiefs have turned companies into successes; can't the same methods apply to schools systems?

"It seems to me that she has world-class leadership experience, and she engages people and she inspires people," stated Deborah Kenny, founder and chief executive of the Harlem Village Academies Charter School. "Isn't that what's needed?"

What do you think about the choice? Do you need to be a veteran educator to be successful as a superintendent/ chancellor?
Comment below.

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