black out

Live-blogging Bloomberg's Black resignation announcement

Reporter Kim Gittleson is inside City Hall for Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference to announce the surprise departure of Schools Chancellor Cathie Black and the appointment of Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott to replace her. Our coverage of the leadership change will go on all afternoon.

2:30 p.m. Walcott’s appearance at Tweed Courthouse has come to a close and so, too, will our live-blog. We’ll have continued coverage of the Department of Education’s leadership changes later today.

2:20 p.m. Walcott joked that he had worn a “Walcott path” between City Hall and Department of Education headquarters that he’ll now have to travel in reverse — and that he wants to start right away. “The passion of my soul is committed to the children of New York City,” he said.

Walcott said he already spoke to UFT President Michael Mulgrew by phone and left a message for principals union president Ernest Logan this morning. Next, he’ll turn his attention to advocating in Albany for city schools funding, he said.

Walcott would not say when Bloomberg first contacted him about taking the job. Asked if he was surprised to have been offered it, Walcott said, “I’m always surprised. I never take things for granted.”

On the question of whether the city’s school priorities would change, Walcott said, “We have a collective responsibility to continue reforms we’ve been implementing over the last nine years. … Policies will be basically the same.” He specified that he would not revisit school closure decisions also said, “I’m a believer in all types of schools,” including charter schools.

“I serve at the pleasure of the mayor,” he emphasized.

Summing up the day, Walcott told assembled education department staff members and reporters, “I”m a happy camper.”

2:15 p.m. Concluding his remarks, Walcott thanked Black for her service and said she called him this morning. Black is “very jazzy — she really is a trailblazer,” Walcott said, adding that he plans to continue to work both with Black and with Joel Klein.

Walcott declined to answer questions from reporters about Black. “I’m not here to talk about Cathie,” he said.

2:08 p.m. Kim (who is battling strep throat) is back at Tweed Courthouse, where Walcott is getting a standing ovation from a packed house of DOE officials. The new chancellor is in good spirits, smiling widely and cracking jokes. “Next week you’ll see me over here permanently,” he said. “They’re going to have to tie me down.”

Walcott took questions from staff before turning his attention to the gaggle of reporters.

2:05 p.m. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is sitting out the debate over who should lead the city’s schools. Here’s his statement: “New York has a lot of hard work ahead as they continue the drive for education reform. Our children only get one shot at a good education, so it’s time for everyone to come together to do the right thing for kids.”

Yesterday, Duncan called attention to the city’s high school dropout rate during an appearance at a conference in Harlem run by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

1:57 p.m. More from Kim at UFT headquarters: Michael Mulgrew’s first words upon greeting reporters were, “New York politics. Here we are again.” Mulgrew says he hopes the leadership change will give the union a chance to change “some education policies we’ve been outspoken about.” And he says at least one good thing came out of Black’s brief tenure at the DOE: “Community members and parents are more engaged.”

Mulgrew says he has known Walcott for many years and looks forward to working with him as chancellor. But his praise is more tempered than much of what we’ve heard today (scroll down for examples). As Bloomberg’s top education aide since 2002, Walcott has stood behind the mayor through many fights with the union, including the current one over layoffs and how they should be done.

Nor does he have much to say about Black herself: “I wish her well as I do anyone.”

1:54 p.m. No one has seen Cathie Black today — but the Twitter user who goes by CathieBlackDOE2 offers one (completely fabricated) version of what the former chancellor might be doing: “Lunch at Masa, dinner at Per Se, running up and down Park Avenue naked in between. Free at last! Free at last!”

A Twitter account purporting to be Dennis Walcott’s has also cropped up. Its first dispatch, sent early this morning? “To be honest, I don’t have the best feeling about this.”

Our vote for best Black-related Tweet of the day is this one from City Hall News: “The ‘Last In, First Out’ headlines kinda write themselves, huh?”

1:45 p.m. Kim has made the quick trip down Broadway to United Federation of Teachers headquarters, where union president Michael Mulgrew is speaking to reporters. Mulgrew is refusing to answer questions about whether he’s happy to see Black gone from the Department of Education, Kim reports.

Asked to grade Black’s performance as chancellor, Mulgrew said, “She wasn’t in the class for the full semester so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to give her a grade.”

1:20 p.m. “Cathie Black” is currently the seventh-most heavily Tweeted term in the United States.

1:15 p.m. Some elected officials are so pleased to see Cathie Black out as chancellor that they are throwing a going-away party on the steps of Tweed Courthouse this afternoon. City Councilman Charles Barron and Assemblywoman Inez Barron, his wife, both vocal critics of the Bloomberg administration’s school policies, will celebrate Black’s departure but also call on the mayor to let New Yorkers play a role in selecting her replacement.

Charles Barron: “We the people are vindicated. We were right from the beginning and this shows when you stick together and are persistent, you can win in the struggle for justice. Now we call on the mayor to sit down with us and listen to our suggestions for candidates to replace the former chancellor.”

Barron went on: “With all of his mistakes, maybe Mayor Bloomberg should resign too.”

1 p.m. The Department of Education just sent out an alert to reporters advertising the press availability Walcott announced. Walcott will be speaking to Department of Education staff at Tweed Courthouse, not just to reporters.

12:55 p.m. Pretty sure that the press release from the “Deny Waiver Coalition,” a group that lobbied for the state to stop Cathie Black from becoming chancellor, is the first to signal caution on Walcott’s appointment. It reads:

The Deny Waiver Coalition called for a national search to find the best Chancellor candidate. That has not happened. The Coalition demanded a Chancellor with proven experience at leading public schools or school systems. New York City still does not have that. The Coalition advocated for transparency in the Chancellor selection process. That has yet to happen.

12:50 p.m. Pinch-hitting from New Orleans, where she’s attending the Education Writers Association conference, recent GothamSchools alum Maura Walz spoke to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who joins the chorus of officials welcoming Walcott with open arms.

Tisch said Bloomberg called her this morning to tell her about the personnel change. “He was very direct,” she said “He said he had a conversation with Cathie and they both agreed that Dennis was going to do this role. We basically spoke about Dennis.”

About Walcott, Tisch said: “I have a longstanding working relationship with Dennis. I believe there will be no issues of transition here. He is articulate with the issues, he is articulate in the communities. … I believe he is someone who is going to restore a sense of calm.”

Tisch went on: “I think that Dennis is being brought in to do a task that he is eminently qualified to do. It will be very good that it’s not up in the air. If you’re asking me should the mayor have done a search … I would say no.”

Why exactly Walcott requires a waiver from the Regents to become chancellor isn’t clear even to her, Tisch said, but she promised that it would come quickly — although she implied that she had not yet received a request for one.

“It’s interesting that Dennis does need a waiver, but I imagine that would be a very pro-forma waiver,” she said. “I assured [Bloomberg] that there would be no reason as best I can see that that would not be granted quickly. In other words I hope that the city lawyers get us the waiver request right away.”

12:35 p.m. More evidence that Black’s resignation wasn’t planned for long: Sources in and around the city’s education department told GothamSchools that they were still scheduling events with her up to last night.

We are also hearing that department insiders are pleased with Walcott’s appointment.

12:28 p.m. Many questions are still unresolved: Why exactly does Walcott require a waiver from the state to become chancellor? What will be the role of Shael Polakow-Suransky, the DOE official promoted to Chief Academic Officer as a requirement before the state would allow Cathie Black, who did not have an education background, to take the job? (Bloomberg did say he’d stay on in that position.) And why didn’t Bloomberg pick Walcott, who knows the city’s school policies well, when Joel Klein resigned?

These questions are likely to be among the first asked at 2 p.m., when Walcott is set to take questions from reporters. (When Walcott announced he’d be taking questions then, a City Hall press official appeared to be surprised, Kim reports.)

12:25 p.m. The official press release from the mayor’s office has just hit our inboxes. Again, it emphasizes Walcott’s experience in city education policy and his family ties to the school system.

The press release also clarifies Walcott’s status within city government. “Upon approval from the New York State Board of Regents, Walcott will step down as Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development,” the release says.

12:20 p.m. GothamSchools reporter Anna Phillips reached Eric Nadelstern, who left high high-ranking position at the DOE in January, shortly after Black took over. Nadelstern said he thinks Black made the decision to step down on her own and that the deck was stacked against her from the start.

Said Nadelstern:

I think everyone was caught by surprise although you and your colleagues in the press have not been kind to her and it’s been a very difficult transition and I would imagine it was her decision and not the mayor’s. I do think she came in at a very difficult transition period and I think she came in with the best of intentions to do the necessary work and I think was overwhelmed by the circumstances. The circumstances of a third-term mayor with waning popularity, a press corps that felt that it did not have access to the last chancellor and was resentful that it didn’t have more access to the new chancellor, and a financial situation that threatened not only the stability of the system but the ability of schools to continue to the gains that have been made.

12:10 p.m. Three takeaways from the press conference that just ended: Bloomberg and Black met this morning and agreed that Black should step down. Bloomberg is hoping the leadership change will redirect redirect attention that has focused on Black’s leadership onto city students. And Walcott was Bloomberg’s first choice to replace Black.

12:05 p.m. Dozens of press releases flew into my inbox during the press conference, with reactions from elected officials, the principals union, charter school advocates, and more. They are uniformly glowing about Walcott’s appointment.

“Some months ago, I recommended that Dennis be named chancellor and I am delighted that this has happened today,” said principals union president Ernest Logan in a statement.

Some months ago, of course, was when Bloomberg named Cathie Black chancellor without warning.

12:01 p.m. The blitz of a press conference is over, and Walcott says he’ll take questions later. Jokes a reporter, “He’s got a body guard of 10-year-old children.”

11:56 a.m. Walcott will be serving as schools chancellor, but the deputy mayor position that he is vacating will go unfilled, Bloomberg says. Bloomberg said that even though he has a master’s degree in education, which Cathie Black did not, Walcott will still require a waiver from the state to take the job. Bloomberg says he is hoping that waiver to be granted quickly.

Bloomberg says he doesn’t know whether Black is still legally the city’s schools chancellor. But Walcott is assuming her responsibilities immediately.

Walcott will continue to draw the salary of a deputy mayor, which is less than the $250,000 a year that chancellors are paid.

11:53 a.m. Here’s an interesting tidbit: Bloomberg said he talked to Joel Klein before offering the job to Walcott.

11:52 a.m. Bloomberg is back, but he is declining to answer questions about the timing of the decision to remove Black or about Black herself. Black is nowhere to be seen.

But he says, “The story had become about her and away from the kids.”

11:50 a.m. The front row is reserved for members of the student government at PS 10, who apparently already had an appointment with Walcott to make waffles. That will happen next week, Walcott promises.

11:47 a.m. Now Walcott himself is taking the podium. Citing not three but four generations of public school patrons in his family, Walcott says he will build on the progress made under Bloomberg’s tenure and will build on the reforms that have already been made.

“I’m a believer in reform. I’m a believer in this mayor,” Walcott says.

“I want to thank the mayor for asking me to take the position,” he says. “I consider myself very blessed and very lucky to be asked. Me — I’m just a guy from Queens whose parents were raised in Harlem. … I’m just a city guy.”

Walcott goes on to say that he is extremely familiar with the city’s schools. “I have visited probably hundreds and hundreds of our schools, walked the corridors, held the hands of children.”

11:46 a.m. In contrast to Black, Dennis Walcott knows the city schools well, Bloomberg emphasizes, noting that Walcott’s children attended public schools and a grandchild is a public school student now. Walcott himself is a public school graduate.

11:43 a.m. Bloomberg says Cathie Black’s tenure hadn’t gone as planned — and that he is to blame. “I take full responsibility for fact that this hasn’t worked out as expected,” he said.

He said he met with Black early this morning and they mutually agreed that it was in the city’s best interest for her to step down as chancellor.

11:40 a.m. We are inside City Hall, where Mayor Bloomberg’s press conference is minutes away from starting. Our reporter, Kim Gittleson, is crammed in along with hordes of reporters and several breathless city staffers. From first blush it looks like Black’s departure is as much a surprise as Joel Klein’s was in November.

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.