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A parent says her concerns with Black go beyond the jokes

A week after Chancellor Cathie Black made headlines by joking that more birth control would solve the problem of overcrowded schools, the furor is beginning to dissipate. But one parent who attended the meeting where Black made the controversial remark said it was blown out of proportion from the beginning.

Shino Tanikawa, a member of the Community Education Council for District 2, which is home to many of the city’s overcrowded schools, told GothamSchools that she’s no fan of Black. She sued the state for giving Black a waiver to become chancellor. But the chancellor’s birth control and Sophie’s Choice comments didn’t bother her. What she found disturbing, she said, was Black’s “total lack of vision or priorities” for the school system.

Tanikawa’s full response:

I think the remarks are diverting our attention away from more important issues. The birth control was clearly a joke — I perceived it as her sincere effort to break the ice even though I agree that it’s not exactly appropriate given the setting (a Task Force of an Assemblyman — Speaker to boot — with a group of highly involved and concerned parents). I am also more forgiving regarding “Sophie’s Choice” — I thought it was her way of telling us how seriously she took her decision making responsibilities. (Disclaimer: I am one of the petitioners who sued the State Education Department over her waiver — I am no fan).

I did appreciate that she came to the meeting and showed a genuine interest in what parents had to say. She was not contemptuous as her predecessor was and as far as I could see, she was not on her Blackberry during the meeting. So, I welcome her openness to listen and willingness to work with parents (even if it is not genuine). However, these qualities are not the most critical ones for the Chancellor of the largest school system in the nation.

I understand perfectly how people are offended, but what gets me worked up is not the remarks themselves but what they represent: her lack of understanding of the education system.

In a corporate board room, I am sure her remarks would not have raised an eyebrow. But she failed to understand that our public education “culture” is very different from the “corporate culture.” She cannot use the same demeanor, the tactics and the approach. On top of all the other silly remarks she has made (“bring your pet to school day”), this was just another piece of evidence that pointed to her lack of qualifications as the Chancellor.

And, what is more disturbing to me was her total lack of vision or priorities. I don’t know what she plans to do, where she stood on various issues (teacher tenure, merit pay, class sizes, etc.), what her goal was, etc. I know she is still in the listening mode, but our children cannot wait until she’s up to speed. There is simply too much that needs to be done right now.

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