Former Hearst Magazines chairwoman Cathie Black started work Monday as chancellor of the nation's largest public school system, visiting classrooms and expressing enthusiasm for her new job despite some vehement backlash over her credentials.
Cathie Black, the former publishing executive turned public school's Chancellor, spent her first day on the job on a five-borough school tour.
The former Hearst Magazines chairwoman started her workday at Public School 262 in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant, where she met with staff and knelt next to a fourth-grade girl as the teacher reviewed a lesson.
Mayor Bloomberg said they chose the Brooklyn school because of their high performance on recent progress reports.
"For three consecutive years PS 262 has received an A on its progress reports and that's especially encouraging considering that 95 percent of the students here are eligible for free or reduced school meals," he said.
"Now our challenge and now Cathie Black's challenge is to make sure that every one of the 1600 public schools in our city achieves the same kind of success that 262 has."
For Black, she said her new position is a "dream job." She was aware, though, that it would not be an easy task.
"It's tough out there and the budget cuts and everything that we'll encounter are going to be very difficult," she said. "but the last thing that we want to impact, the last thing that we want to impact is any sense of impacting the individual schools or the teachers."
Black will also visit schools in Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. Her trips are surely meant to promote some goodwill amongst detractors who were against Mayor Bloomberg's replacement for JOel Klein, who previously ran the Department of Education.
Black takes over as schools chancellor under heavy criticism, but she's already dodged one bullet: The severe winter storm that came during the Christmas break, so she did not have to decide whether to declare one or more snow days.
Additionally, a judge ruled Wednesday against foes of Black who maintain that she is unfit to head the school system because she has no advanced degree and no background in education.
Justice Gerald Connolly of state Supreme Court in Albany dismissed three lawsuits that sought to overturn Black's appointment, ruling that the state education commissioner was within his authority to excuse her from the credentials normally required for the post.
The petitioners are weighing their options and might appeal the judge's decision, said Noah Gotbaum, one of the public school parents who had petitioned to deny Black the chancellor's job.
"The system has major educational issues, and in order to solve those we need someone who understands what goes on in the classroom, what goes on in our schools," Gotbaum said Sunday. "Instead we have someone who is so out of touch as to almost be embarrassing."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who surprised nearly everyone when he announced the selection of Black, praised Connolly's ruling and said Black "has been working hard and is ready to hit the ground running on Monday, her first official day on the job."
Black, 66, has given few interviews since Bloomberg introduced her on Nov. 9 as the next chief of New York City's 1.1 million-pupil school system.
She defended her skills and experience as a manager of large, complex organizations in an interview broadcast Dec. 5 on WABC-TV.
"Give me a chance. I will listen. I will be out in the community," she said. "Don't judge someone that you have never even met."
Black has served as publisher of USA Today and as CEO of Hearst magazines, where she oversaw titles including Esquire; Good Housekeeping; O, the Oprah magazine; and Popular Mechanics.
She is the author of a how-to book called "Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)."
Her appointment reflects Bloomberg's conviction that success in business translates to similar achievements in public service.
"There is no one who knows more about the skills our children will need to succeed in the 21st-century economy," Bloomberg said at a City Hall news conference with Klein and Black.
Before Klein joined the Bloomberg administration in 2002 he was with media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG. Previously, he was an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration. He headed the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division for nearly four years, where his work included launching the case to break up Microsoft Corp. He has left to take a position with News Corp.
Klein grew up in New York City and attended public schools, whereas Black attended Catholic school in Chicago and sent her own children to an elite boarding school in Connecticut. ]