Cathie Black, the chairman of Hearst Corp.’s magazine division, which produces Esquire and Cosmopolitan, will take charge of the largest U.S. public school system following the resignation of New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein.
Black, 66, who’s spent 15 years at the closely held media company, will be New York’s first female chancellor, overseeing 1.1 million students, 136,000 employees and a $21 billion operating budget, reporting to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“Cathie Black is a superstar manager who has succeeded spectacularly in the private sector,” Bloomberg said yesterday. “She is brilliant, she is innovative, she is driven -- and there is virtually nobody who knows more about the needs of the 21st century workforce for which we need to prepare our kids.”
Klein, 64, a lawyer who has been chancellor since the mayor won direct control of the schools in 2002, will join New York-based News Corp., the owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, as executive vice president and adviser to Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Black said she had “limited exposure to unions” other than during her eight years as president and publisher at USA Today, the Gannett Co. newspaper. The United Federation of Teachers acts as sole bargaining agent for about 90,000 New York City school teachers, 18,000 classroom paraprofessionals and hundreds of administrative and student-service workers.
“I have no illusions about this being an easy next three years,” Black said at a City Hall news conference yesterday, referring to the final three years of the mayor’s term. “What I can promise is that I will listen to your expectations.”
Klein, who was paid $250,000 a year, had been chairman and chief executive officer of Bertelsmann Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Germany’s largest media company, and assistant attorney general in charge of the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division.
Under Klein, the schools ended “social promotion,” by which students were advanced to the next grade even if they hadn’t mastered reading and writing skills to perform at that level. The city’s graduation rate increased for eight consecutive years, reaching a high of 63 percent in 2009. The Education Department created 474 new schools and 113,000 public school seats to reduce overcrowding. Between 2001 and 2009, violent crime in schools fell 32 percent, according to a news release from the mayor’s office.
“The greatest school reform in the country over the past eight years happened right here,” Klein said at the news conference, with the mayor at his side. “We cannot continue to fail to educate our children and hope to have the country we want.”
Klein took “a program that was a case study in dysfunction and turned it into one that the Obama administration has hailed as a national model,” Bloomberg said. The mayor said he conducted a “public search” before choosing Black.
Black, who lives in Manhattan, grew up in Chicago attending parochial schools and graduated from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., according to her Hearst biography. Her two children attended private boarding schools in Connecticut, she said.
“Since she is not an educator, there will be a steep learning curve,” said Zakiyah Ansari, spokeswoman and organizer for the Alliance for Quality Education, a parents’ advocacy group. “She can make her job easier and more successful by learning from the mistakes of her predecessor and prioritizing collaboration with parents, communities and their organizations.”
Black began her publishing career in advertising sales for Holiday magazine in 1966, according to her biography on the Hearst website. One of the early publishers of USA Today, the newspaper founded in 1982, Black is a “highly thought of” media professional, said John Morton, a Silver Spring, Maryland- based industry consultant.
“She’s always been very good at what she does,” Morton said. “But if anything can break her, it will be the New York City schools.”
She is a director of International Business Machines Corp. and Coca-Cola Co. Her book, “Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life),” made the BusinessWeek best-seller list in January 2008.
The mayor, who took office in 2002 and has three years remaining in what he has said will be his final term, is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.