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.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede