At her first public visit to a city school today, newly green-lighted chancellor-to-be Cathleen Black met a handful of students and teachers, praised the student’s artwork on the walls, and was deemed a “natural teacher” by the school’s principal.
Black visited the Bronx’s P.S. 109 this morning, the day after State Education Commissioner David Steiner formally gave her the go-ahead to become chancellor. She was met by a gaggle of reporters and some parents who have waited three weeks to speak to her.
“It’s the beginning of a whole new era and I’m really excited,” Black said as she stopped briefly for questions before entering the school for a tour.
Black, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Chancellor Dennis Walcott, greeted students and parents as they arrived. Black then toured classes, stopping to read the book “Caps for Sale” to a class of first-graders.
Black admitted that she is approaching her school visits as a learning experience. The new chancellor officially takes office on January 3 but said she plans to continue to visit schools before then.
“I’m very much of an outreach person, historically,” she said. “I look forward to it because that’s where I’m going to learn more, and I want to be in the schools and listen to the children, and get a feel for the schools and a feel for their leadership.”
P.S. 109’s principal, Amanda Blatter, said after the tour that Black charmed the students and gave the impression that she was ready for the position. And Black praised the school for displaying artwork on its walls.
“It’s a very well run school, and that’s about the leadership,” Black said.
Nicole Bush, the mother of a second-grader at nearby P.S. 204, came to the school when she heard that the new chancellor would be making an appearance, hoping to talk to Black about how she’d like to change the schools.
“It really feels like they’re locking the parents out,” Bush said. “In a few months’ time it seems like all you’re going to be able to do is drop your kid off in the morning, in and out.”
Bush joined the scrum of reporters questioning Black after her tour, asking Black about her position on the city’s plans to close possibly more than 50 schools this year. The chancellor’s cabinet is meeting this week to make final decisions about which schools it will try to close.
Black demurred, saying that she wanted to avoid specific policy questions on her first day on the job. “All of these things are very important and challenging questions,” Black said. “We’ll come up with what we believe are the right answers.”
Bush was unconvinced. “She’s going to do exactly what Bloomberg wants,” she said later. “She’s going to chop down and crunch schools and I don’t think that’s the answer.”
But Albertina Rivas, a member of the P.S. 109 parent-teacher association, said Black deserved the benefit of the doubt.
“Let’s get her to work first before we give an opinion,” she said. “Everyone deserves an opportunity.”
Questioned on the controversy, Black deflected worries that her lack of experience in schools will impede her performance as chancellor. Black’s lack of credentials prompted outcry from around the city and Steiner made the installation of a Chief Academic Officer a condition of her appointment.
“That was yesterday, today is today, and I’m the new chancellor,” Black said.