The state education commissioner agreed Monday to let publishing executive Cathie Black serve as New York City schools chancellor, putting the Hearst Magazines chairwoman in charge of the nation's largest school system.
The announcement came after Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to appoint a seasoned educator as second-in-command to Black, who needed a waiver from the state because she has no background in education.
In some of her first comments since being granted the waiver, Black this morning said "she thinks its great." To her critics she said "get to know me."
Bloomberg announced Nov. 9 that he had chosen Black, the former publisher of USA Today, to succeed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who is leaving at the end of the year to take a job with News Corp.
Bloomberg called the 66-year-old Black a "world-class manager" who would inspire the school system's 1.1 million students and 135,000 employees.
But with no credentials as an educator, Black needed the waiver from Commissioner David Steiner.
An advisory panel appointed by the commissioner to weigh Black's qualifications recommended last week that Steiner deny the waiver. But Steiner said he might be willing to grant it if a deputy chancellor with education credentials were chosen.
After days of negotiations, Bloomberg agreed to create the position of chief academic officer under Black. The job will go to Shael Polakow-Suransky, a former teacher and principal who is currently deputy chancellor for performance and accountability.
Bloomberg said Polakow-Suransky, 38, would oversee instructional programs and the implementation of major educational policies.
In his decision announced late Monday, Steiner said Black "has affirmatively stated that the position will continue throughout her tenure ensuring strong and continuous pedagogic support."
He also praised Black's "exceptional record of successfully leading complex organizations and achievement of excellence in her endeavors."
Bloomberg applauded Steiner's decision.
"It is now time to put politics aside and recognize that it is in the best interest of our children for Cathie Black to succeed as chancellor," the mayor said in a statement. "The crucial work that lies ahead requires all of us to come together around our shared commitment to our children."
Teachers union head Michael Mulgrew said in a statement Monday that he hopes to "move forward on the many challenges the system faces."
The arrangement has not satisfied Black's critics.
State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries of Brooklyn said Monday he was considering legal action to block the waiver.
"This is about the rule of law," Jeffries said.
He said state law permits waiving the requirement for educational credentials when the applicant has extraordinary qualifications that are equivalent. For example, Klein, a lawyer who also needed a waiver, had been the U.S. Justice Department's top antitrust official and had taught school briefly as a young man.
"In this case, Commissioner Steiner appears inclined to grant the waiver based on the educational credentials of someone other than the applicant, and that violates the law," Jeffries said.
Shino Tanikawa, a mother with two children in Manhattan public schools, said she was strongly opposed to the waiver for Black.
"The law is very clear that a chancellor either has the required educational background or something that is equivalent, and she doesn't have either," Tanikawa said.
Christopher Emdin, an assistant professor of science education at Teacher's College at Columbia University, said having a chancellor who has never worked in a school would be alienating to teachers and administrators whose jobs require graduate degrees.
"It sends the wrong message to teachers about their needing to be experts in their practice if the person at the helm of the system doesn't have that background," he said.
Critics also have questioned how much authority Polakow-Suransky will have to make policy.
Asked Monday about the lines of authority between Black and her lieutenant, Bloomberg said, "There will be one person in charge, make no mistake about that."