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NY Magazine's very public profile of Chancellor Cathie Black

Schools Chancellor Cathie Black is on the cover of this week’s New York Magazine, which carries an evenhanded-yet-damning profile of the Hearst magazine executive-turned-public schools chief.

Though Black’s public relations team has kept her on a short leash of late around the city’s education beat reporters, reporter Chris Smith was able to spend some time with the chancellor, gathering her reflections on her first Panel for Educational policy meeting in January and on whether she checked her Blackberry during it.

Smith’s piece, titled “Just Smile,” after a bit of advice Black offered students who were presenting their start-up business plans, contains some of the sharpest detail yet about her former magazine industry colleagues’ impressions of her. (She’s a good speaker. She’s an endless self-promoter.) It also has quotes from the chancellor that shed some light on how much she’s learned and how far she has to go.

Black tells Smith that she’s trying to empower public school principals and Smith follows up with a question about exactly what power principals currently lack. Black responds and gets tangled. She begins by talking about the power principals already have to control much of their budgets and ends several conversation stops away on the topic of public opinion.

“Well, too many people will say, ‘I don’t have the money.’ But the smartest principals will figure out ‘How do I reallocate my resources for the things I think are most important in my own school? The teacher evaluation, the … all of the work now in terms of curriculum development, for the core standards.’ This is going to be a game-changer. But it’s a lot of hard slogging, also. Then we have, with the new schools, whether they be charter schools or just new approaches … they’re very exciting. But too many people are afraid of change. They’re very wed to whatever they truly believe in. So obviously there’s a lot of noise about that.”

Black also told Smith that she made a point of not using her Blackberry during last month’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, unlike her predecessor. (Though she did check her email towards the end.) But after a few hours of listening to testimony from parents, teachers, and students, what she really wanted was a crossword puzzle.

“You know, it’s New York,” Black told me with a shrug the next morning. “And people are very opinionated, and so it’s quite an experience. You sit there and you just listen, you don’t respond. They have a point of view, or they’ve got placards, or they wrote songs. You know, it’s part of the American process. I did not bring my BlackBerry. I understand that had been a problem for too many people, including you know who,” she says, a mild jab at her predecessor, Klein, who was criticized for tuning out the demonstrators by reading e-mail. “But one could understand why you’d want to be on your BlackBerry, just doing whatever, crossword puzzles.”

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