Reporting John Slattery
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Newly-minted New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott faced his first full day at the helm of city schools Friday, starting with walking walking his grandson, Justin, to P.S. 36, the same school Walcott went to as a child.
While he is new in his position as chancellor, the 59-year-old former deputy mayor has effectively been holding the position for months as chancellor Cathie Black’s right hand, attending meetings and hearings with her.
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Walcott began his career as a kindergarten teacher and founded a program to mentor young boys.
“What you’re going to see is an extenuation of the reforms we’ve already put in place and making tough decisions. Our goal is to phase out those poor performance schools, put new high quality schools in place and make sure we create new options for our students,” he said.
“There is not a better prepared, more knowledgeable person in New York City to runs the schools than Dennis,” Geoffrey Canada, of Harlem Children’s Zone, told CBS 2′s John Slattery. “I think you’re going to find a rather unflappable chancellor who is deeply involved in how budgets are put together and how policy is made. Parents are going to love him.”
“We have one bottom line and our one bottom line are our 1.1 million students,” Walcott added. “Job one is doing what I’m doing, one is just bonding with my grandchild and then just getting together with the students and the parents.”
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Job number two was getting grilled in a City Council budget hearing. The new chancellor did not sugar-coat the severe impact a state-wide budget crunch will have on city schools.
“Teacher layoffs, smaller school budgets, and less instructional and operational support,” he said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the change Thursday, taking much of the blame for the fact that his highly-touted appointment of Black as chancellor just three months ago was a disaster, and conceding that Black had become the story instead of the students.
“I take full responsibility for the fact that this has not worked out,” he said.
It was an eventful day for newly unemployed Black, who admitted Friday that she was in over her head – and also said sexism may be one reason for her very public failure, reports CBS 2′s Emily Smith.
Black was all smiles on Thursday, with kind words for replacement Dennis Walcott, but she took a decidedly different tone on Friday.
In her first detailed interview since being ousted, Black talked to Fortune Magazine and wondered if sexism played a part in her removal from office.
“If I were a guy, would I have had the pounding that I did?” she asked.
CBS 2 spoke to a New York City public schoolteacher about Black’s cry of sexism.
“I’m a teacher, and I work with a lot of teachers,” the teacher said. “The consensus is, basically, she wasn’t qualified for the job.”
On Friday, Bloomberg called Black “a phenomenally competent woman,” noting that it’s hard to say when the hiring derailed.
From the start, Black, a former magazine executive with no education experience, had a difficult time interacting with parents and students.
Her short tenure was marked by controversy. Only a few weeks into the job, she joked about a solution to overcrowding in schools: “Could we just have some birth control? It would help out a lot.”
She was graceful Thursday when discussing her departure.
“I have loved the principals and the teachers and the kids. Dennis Walcott is a great guy. We have a wonderful relationship. I wish everybody the best,” Black said.
By her own admission, Black was a fish out of water.
“It was like having to learn Russian in a weekend, and then give speeches in Russian and speak Russian in budget committee and city council meetings,” she said.
Parents and union officials who have been lobbying for Black’s ouster for months said they were pleased.
“I think he should have been the first choice instead of Cathie Black, being that he does have an education background,” said parent Chris Seals.
“Well I think it will put the put the focus back on the children where it should be and I think it will put the focus back on education,” said teacher Hillary Doloboff.
“I think she didn’t have any qualifications for the job so it doesn’t surprise me she didn’t last too long,” said parent Aaron Rennie.
Walcott was scheduled to meet with staff members Friday and planned to begin meeting with parents next week.
“Do not be surprised by Dennis. He does speak with a soft voice but he can carry a big stick when he needs to and he can definitely be a fighter and an advocate,” said Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League.
Is Dennis Walcott a better choice for chancellor? Will he succeed in the position? Sound off in our comments section.