black's basics

"Superstar manager" Black arrives with short education resume

Cathie Black published an advice book for women in business in 2007.
Cathie Black published an advice book for women in business in 2007.

The next New York City Schools Chancellor surpasses Joel Klein in at least one regard: the amount of mystery surrounding her views on education.

While Klein had graduated from the city school system and taught math to sixth-graders before being appointed chancellor, Cathleen Black’s experience appears to be limited to a less than year-long stint on a charter school advisory board.

But in appointing Black, Mayor Michael Bloomberg may have been looking for someone who will steer a calm and steady course forward, rather than someone to bring bold new ideas for education reform.

When he announced Black’s appointment this afternoon, Bloomberg trumpeted her track record of “building on successes and leading teams to even greater achievements.” And Black vowed this afternoon to build on the work that Klein has rolled out over the past eight years.

Black, 66, is a formidable figure in the publishing industry. Before going to Hearst in 1995, she had worked as the publisher of both New York Magazine and USA Today,  as well as the head of the Newspaper Association of America.

She has very little experience in public service or in public education. Her two children both attended private boarding schools, and she attended parochial school as a child on Chicago’s South Side.

A book she published in 2007, “Basic Black,” summarized the principles she followed to become a leader, from the importance of choosing battles carefully to her belief that one should “lead with affection – but don’t call it that at the office.”

At the press conference this afternoon, Black was warm but direct, speaking in short, to-the-point sentences that contrasted Klein’s more passionate, meandering style. “I have no illusions about this being an easy next three years — quite the opposite,” she said.

Black oversaw periods of both rapid growth and financial challenges during her 15-year tenure at Hearst. Last year, when Crain’s New York named her the 16th most powerful woman in New York, the magazine noted that the company’s ad sales plummeted 24 percent during the first half of 2009. But during the same year, Black oversaw the company’s most successful magazine launch in nearly a decade, of the Food Network Magazine.

Black was also known for avoiding some of the internal tumult and turnover that has plagued other top magazine publishers, said a media reporter who covered Hearst. She has kept a low public profile and has described her managerial approach as non-confrontational.

“She looks you straight in the eye, she’s tough, she’s demanding, she works very hard, she’s a motivator, she’s highly respected, she’s very articulate, she has supreme confidence about who she is and what she represents,” said Edward Lewis, the co-founder of Essence magazine and chairman of Harlem Village Academies’s board.

Black joined the Academies’ national leadership advisory board earlier this year after making several visits to the schools. Lewis introduced her to the schools’s founder, Deborah Kenny, and later Black watched a presentation Kenny gave on education at Allen & Company’s 2008 Sun Valley Conference.

“She was just immediately passionate. I mean, immediately: How can I help?” Kenny said in an interview today. “Just immediately engaged and interested and passionate about education reform.”

Bloomberg argued today that Black’s experience as a top-tier manager will prepare her for the challenges of overseeing the city’s largest agency. Still, the number of people Black supervises will skyrocket from 2,000 at Hearst to more than 135,000 teachers and agency staff.

Black will also be the first woman chancellor of the city’s schools in the history of the system.

“It’s really good to have a woman running that place,” said a DOE source. “That is a silver lining. The boy’s club will get a bit of an awakening.”

One of the most important relationships Black will have to build will be with the city teachers union. Bloomberg boasted today that United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew was the first education official Black met.

But that meeting wasn’t planned, nor did the teachers union president know he was meeting the future chancellor, Mulgrew said today. The two met as Black was leaving a meeting with the mayor and Mulgrew was arriving, Mulgrew said, and Bloomberg introduced Black as the head of Hearst Magazines, not as a future colleague.

Mulgrew said that he planned to prioritize discussing the city’s over-reliance on standardized tests and developing more early interventions for struggling schools with the new chancellor.

“When I met her, I thought she was very nice and I’m looking forward to working with her,” Mulgrew said. “When someone is new you have to be optimistic. You can’t go in with any preconceived notions and that’s the only way I am going into this.”

At the mayor’s announcement today, Black acknowledged that she has had “limited experience” working with unions and that it would take time for her to learn the ins and outs of the city’s labyrinthine public school system.

“What I ask for is your patience as I get up to speed on all of the issues facing K-12 education today,” Black said. “What I can promise is that I will listen to your concerns, your interests and your expectations. In turn, I ask the same of you.”

Because she isn’t certified as a school district leader, Black will need a waiver from State Education Commissioner David Steiner before officially taking the chancellor job. A spokesman for the state education department said today that the commissioner had not yet received the mayor’s formal request for the waiver.

It’s not clear when Black will officially begin her duties. Hearst’s Chief Executive Officer Frank Bennack, Jr., told his employees today that the company is coordinating Black’s exact departure date with the city but expected it to be before the end of the year. Bloomberg said this afternoon that Klein would likely stay on through the first of the year to ease the transition.

First Person

First Person: Why my education nonprofit is bucking the coastal trend and setting up shop in Oklahoma

PHOTO: Creative Commons

“Oklahoma?! Why are you expanding to Oklahoma?!”

The response when I told some people that Generation Citizen, the nonprofit I run, was expanding to central Texas and Oklahoma, quickly became predictable. They could understand Texas, probably because our headquarters will be in the blue-dot-in-sea-of-red Austin. But Oklahoma?

My answer: Generation Citizen is expanding to Oklahoma City because no one would expect us to expand to Oklahoma City.

Our nonprofit is dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged citizens by reviving civics education in schools. We help middle and high school students learn about local politics by guiding them as they take action on issues they care about, like funding for teen jobs or state resources for teenage moms.

I founded the organization after graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island in 2009. Since then, we’ve expanded our programming to Boston, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area. All are urban areas with wide swaths of low-income young people, unequal schools, and disparate power dynamics. Our work is needed in those areas.

At the same time, all of these areas have predominantly liberal populations. In fact, according to The Economist, they are among the 10 most liberal cities in the country.

Generation Citizen is a non-partisan organization. We do not wish to convince young people to support a particular candidate or party — we just want them to engage politically, period. But the fact that we are preparing low-income young people in liberal urban centers to become politically active complicates this narrative.

So despite the fact that we could work with many more students in our existing cities, we made a conscious decision to expand to a more politically diverse region. A city that had real Republicans.

As we started talking about expansion, I realized the extent to which the dialogue about political and geographic diversity was a rarity in national nonprofit circles. While several large education organizations, like Teach for America and City Year, have done an admirable job of in working in conservative and rural regions across the country, a lot of other organizations follow a more predictable path, sticking largely to cities on the east and west coasts and sometimes, if folks feel crazy, an Atlanta or Miami.

There is nothing wrong with these decisions (and we were originally following this trajectory). A big reason for the coastal-focused expansion strategy is the availability of financial resources. Nonprofits want to raise money locally to sustain themselves, and those cities are home to a lot of people and foundations who can fund nonprofits.

But a more problematic reason seems related to our increasing ideological self-segregation. Nonprofits lean toward expanding to places that are comfortable, places that their leaders visit, places where people tend to hold similar values and political views.

One of the fault lines in our democracy is our inability to talk to people who disagree with us (highlighted daily by this presidential election). And non-profits may be exacerbating this reality.

This schism actually became more apparent to me when our board of directors started having conversations about expansion. Oklahoma City had come to the top of my proposed list because of my personal and professional contacts there. But I quickly realized that no one on my board lived more than five miles from an ocean, and save a board member from Oklahoma, none had stepped foot in the state.

“Are we sure we want to expand there? Why not a gateway city?” (I still don’t know what a gateway city is.)

“We can hire a Republican to run the site, but they can’t be a Trump supporter.”

“Are we sure that we can raise enough money to operate there?”

It wasn’t just my board. Whenever I talked to friends about our plans, they’d offer the same resistance.

The stereotypes I heard were twofold: Oklahoma was full of bigoted conservatives, and it was an incredibly boring location. (The dullness narrative got an unquestionable boost this year when star basketball player Kevin Durant left the hometown Thunder. It became quite clear that a main rationale for his leaving the team was Oklahoma City itself.)

But as I met with folks about Generation Citizen’s work, I met citizen after citizen who was excited about our mission. The state is facing tremendous budget challenges, and its voter participation rates amongst the worst in the country. Given these realities, there seemed to be widespread recognition that a program like ours could actually be helpful.

I did not talk about national politics with most people I met. Indeed, we might disagree on whom to support. But we did agree on the importance of educating young people to be politically active, shared concerns about public school budget cuts, and bonded over excitement for the Thunder’s playoff chances.

Still, the actual expansion to Oklahoma will be a challenge for our organization. Despite our local ties, we are coming in from the outside, and we do have the perception of being a progressively minded organization. What will happen if one of our classes wants to advocate for open carry at schools in response to a shooting? How will my board handle working in a site where they wouldn’t ordinarily visit?

I am excited to tackle all of these challenges. And I would push other similarly sized non-profits to think about working in a more diverse set of areas. It is not possible to be a national organization and avoid entire swaths of the country. But more importantly, given these tenuous political times, it feels important to interact with people who may not hold our beliefs.

Nonprofits can’t fix our national dialogue alone. But by expanding where we work, we might help improve the conversation.

honor system

Meet Derek Voiles, the Morristown educator who is Tennessee’s newest Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: Tennessee Department of Education
Derek Voiles, Tennessee's 2016-17 Teacher of the Year

Derek Voiles, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher in Morristown, is Tennessee’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year, the State Department of Education announced Thursday.

One of nine finalists for this year’s award, Voiles teaches at Lincoln Heights Middle in Hamblen County Schools in East Tennessee. He received the top teacher honor at a banquet in Nashville.

Voiles, who has been teaching for six years, has long shared his teaching practices publicly — on Twitter, through a blog he wrote with a colleague, and as a state ambassador for the Common Core standards. In recent years, according to a state news release, his classroom became a hub as teachers from across his district observed his teaching in hopes of replicating his practices, which often improved the performance of students far behind their peers.

“All students are capable of achieving great things, and all students deserve a teacher who believes this and will do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Voiles said in the release. He is also a doctoral candidate at East Tennessee State University.

Now, Voiles will gain an even wider stage, as Tennessee’s representative to the National Teacher of the Year program. He will also share insight from the classroom as part of committees and working groups with the Tennessee Department of Education.

All nine Teacher of the Year finalists, representing each of the state’s regions, will serve on the Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council during the 2016-17 school year.

The department also recognized two division winners from Middle and West Tennessee. Cord Martin, a music education and enrichment teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Maury County, was recognized for his innovative teaching strategies and connecting content to contemporary culture. Christy McManus, a fifth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Chester County Middle School in Henderson was honored for equipping her students with the end goal in mind: a college-ready twelfth grader.

Voiles follows Cathy Whitehead, a third-grade teacher from Chester County, who served as Tennessee’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. Whitehead teaches at West Chester Elementary School in Henderson in West Tennessee.