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Cathie Black's school visits take her to the good, skip the bad

More than a month after being named the next schools chancellor, Cathie Black has yet to see the system at its most troubled.

Black has been to 13 schools, making stops in each of the five boroughs and in schools at each grade level. The majority of schools she’s visited have earned either an A or a B on their annual progress report, meaning they are in no danger of being closed for poor performance. She has been to five “C” schools, none of which are on the city’s “to-be-closed” list.

Asked today if she thought she was getting a “realistic” view of the city’s schools, Black said she had.

“I’ve been to the South Bronx, and that’s about as realistic as you can get, and I felt the same thing,” she told Daily News reporter Rachel Monahan. “The principal has been there for four years. And I asked if [the school] looked like that four years ago, and she said no it did not look like that. So that comes from leadership.”

Black visited Medgar Evers College Preparatory School today, a high school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that admits students based on their middle school test scores and other academic measures. Nearly all Medgar Evers students graduate with a Regents diploma and some go on to top universities. President Obama praised the school back in July for giving its students the opportunity to earn college credits at the Medgar Evers College of The City University of New York before they graduate from high school.

Department of Education officials allowed only four reporters to enter Medgar Evers with Black today. Descriptions of the visit were provided by Sharon Otterman of the New York Times.

Black visited four classrooms today, spending 45 minutes at the school and chatting with students as she passed through. In a Mandarin class, students sang her a welcome song and performed a dance with bands of colored cloth.

“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,” Black told the class.

“It’s been very exciting to see the growth 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,” she said.

Administrators at the school said they were proud to have boosted the graduation rate from 60 to 95 percent in the last decade. They said they wished Black had spent more time in the school.

“That was the speed of light,” said Assistant Principal Delroy Burnett of Black’s visit.

Medgar Evers Principal Michael Wiltshire said he didn’t have time to thoroughly explain his school’s philosophy to Black. But he hoped she would walk away remembering his school as one “that believes in the total education of the child,” he said.

“It’s not just the academic development of the child; it’s the holistic development, where we take into consideration the total child. That I think is what the city lacks,” Wiltshire said. “They’re not talking about the total education of the child; they’re talking about test prep. We’re not into that.”

Black will officially become chancellor on January 3. Asked how she planned to spend the holiday, she replied: “Studying.”

List of schools Black has visited:

PS 172K Beacon School of Excellence: Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The school has shown success with its large population of ELL students and was one of the first schools Klein visited when he became chancellor. Progress report grade: A

PS 109X Sedgwick: Morris Heights, Bronx. For her first visit to a public school as chancellor designate, Black went to P.S. 109, an elementary school with a large population of Latino students who’ve recently immigrated and are not fluent in English. Progress report grade: A

PS 111Q Jacob Blackwell and PS 78Q: Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan chose these two schools in her district for Black to visit. Both of them have a majority of low-income students and are ethnically diverse. Blackwell got a C on its most recent progress report and P.S. 78 got a B.

PS 33M Chelsea Prep: Last week, Black spent an hour at this elementary school in Chelsea with Times’ reporter Susan Dominus. She chatted with students and suggested that the school hold a “pet day,” so everyone could bring their pets to school. Later, she noted this was not a very practical suggestion. Progress report grade: A

PS 185K Walter Kassenbrock: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. This elementary school routinely posts high test scores and has become very popular, so it now has to manage an overcrowding problem. Its gifted and talented program is being phased out. Progress report grade: C

PS 71X Rose Scala: Pelham Bay, Bronx. A K-8 school where about half the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Roughly 60 percent of its 3rd graders passed the state’s math and reading tests last year, which was about the citywide average. Progress report grade: C

PS 329K Surfside and I.S. 239K Mark Twain: Coney Island, Brooklyn. Surfside is a K-5 school where the majority of students are low-income and minority. It has few students who are learning English, but has a high percentage of special education students. About 44 percent of its 3rd graders passed the state’s math and reading tests last year. Progress report grade: C. Mark Twain is a nearby selective middle school that admits students from all over the city and sends many of its students on to the specialized high schools. Students audition for the school’s art, music, and dance programs and take written tests for other subject areas like science and creative writing. Progress report grade: A.

Hillcrest High School: Jamaica, Queens. A large high school that reorganized itself into seven programs in 2006, Hillcrest has a four-year graduation rate of 69 percent, which is higher than the citywide average. Like many high schools in Queens, it is overcrowded. Progress report grade: C.

IS 75R Frank Paulo: Staten Island. A middle school where about a quarter of the students are low-income and students in all grades score above the citywide averages on the state’s math and reading tests. Progress report grade: B

Medgar Evers College Prep: Crown Heights, Brooklyn. A 6-12 school that admits high performing students from all over the city. Students have access to more AP classes than your average high school can offer, and many graduate having already earned college credits. Progress report grade: B

PS 376K: Bushwick, Brooklyn. An elementary school where nearly all the students come from low-income families and most are Latino. P.S. 376 has a gifted and talented program and it also has a large number of students who are recent immigrants and don’t speak English. Progress report grade: B.

Photos taken by Ed Reed of the mayor’s office:

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