Yesterday I was at work when one of the editors walked over and announced “Cathie Black was just named Chancellor of New York City schools.”
My immediate reaction was HUH? Apparently, I was not alone in this reaction, as the Daily News seemed to feel the same way with its headline the following morning:
I was particularly confounded because her book, Basic Black, was like my Bible when I was a magazine intern trying to move my way up the ranks. I feel like I knew so much about her history and career — she’s a media titan who has moved her way through major newspapers and magazines, earning the prominent position of Publisher at publications like New York Magazine and USA Today before going on to become the President of Hearst Magazines. And a woman at that. Not too shabby, and the experiences and words of wisdom she shared in her book will always stick with me as I create my own path through the world of media.
But when the announcement was made, the glaringly obvious item missing from her impressive resume was education experience. She hasn’t so much as taught a class, and both of her children attended boarding school in Connecticut. Ok, I thought, maybe I don’t have that great of an understanding of what exactly a school system chancellor does. So I Googled. And essentially, her responsibility will be to serve as the leader of the NYC Department of Education, home to the largest school system in the nation with 1.1 million students and more than a few problems.
Mayor Bloomberg has attributed his selection of Black to the fact that she is a “world-class manager.” And after weighing all of what I know, I feel a bit torn. A part of me is happy about the fact that one of my magazine idols is breaking barriers: not only is she the first woman in this position, but she is also showing the country that a resume doesn’t have to dictate what you can do in this world; some passion, a great skill set and some innovative ideas can bring something new and appealing to any position.
But then the other realistic part of me that left the theater crying after watching the documentary about the terrible state of the US school system “Waiting for Superman” chimed in. The fact of the matter is, our nation’s education system is in dire need of help. I strongly believe that a great education is necessary for success, but the numbers of children in our country, including New York, who will never see that success because of the lack of good teachers and schools is horrendous. So for this city’s Education Department, which is home to what have been called some of the worst public schools in the country, don’t we need a leader who knows the education system inside and out? Someone who understands both the good and the bad of the system thus far and can say she has the experience to back it up?
Whether it’s an unconventional approach or experience that matters most, only time will tell how Black will do in this position. All I can do is hope that Mayor Bloomberg’s experiment won’t be at the expense of the city’s children.