NYC Schools Chief Resigns, Leaving Lasting Legacy

By Christina A. Samuels — November 09, 2010 3 min read
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Joel I. Klein, the combative and controversial chancellor of New York City Schools, announced Tuesday that he would be resigning at the end of the year, leaving behind a school system fundamentally changed from where it stood when his tenure began eight years ago.

From the perspective of his supporters, the fact that Klein leaves behind an enduring legacy is good: His focus on school reform efforts will be carried on by his successors, they say.

“Because of him, New York has become a magnet for educational entrepreneurs,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington. “He’s demonstrated a non-educator can make a lot of meaningful change in a big-city school district.”

But Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, a parent advocacy group, said that Klein’s successor, former Hearst Magazines publisher Cathleen P. Black, has a “difficult hole to dig out of.”

“I’m very thrilled” Klein is leaving, Haimson said in an interview. “We suffered a long time under his leadership, if you want to call it that, and I think the lack of respect is mutual.” Klein ignored the wishes of parents, and the educational gains that the city promotes are illusory, she said.

“It’s going to be hard to correct course. It’s going to be hard to undo all the damage,” Haimson said.

Klein, a former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division and a corporate executive, was chosen by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to lead the district after Bloomberg won mayoral control of the schools in 2002.

Klein announced during a press conference Tuesday that he would be leaving the helm of the 1.1 million-student district at the end of the year. He will join News Corp., the media company founded by Rupert Murdoch, as an executive vice president reporting directly to Murdoch. He also will join the company’s board of directors. In a press release, the company said that Klein would advise on a number of issues, including development of business strategies for the “emerging educational marketplace.”

During Klein’s time in office, the city has created close to 500 district-run and charter schools. The city’s graduation rate has increased for eight years and stands at 63 percent as of 2009. Klein also created an accountability system that centers on yearly progress reports that award letter grades to schools based on students’ academic achievement and progress.

Cathie Black, who would be the first woman chancellor of the New York City schools, has been president and chairman of Hearst Magazines, which publishes Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Good Housekeeping and Marie Claire, among other titles. She was also president and publisher of USA Today from 1983 to 1991.

During a press conference, Black said that her children, two sons and a daughter, attended private school in Connecticut. She also said that the eight deputy chancellors in the school district would work to prep her on the educational issues that continue to face the district.

“With the help of the eight deputies in the office, we will spend a good amount of time prepping me and making sure I understand all of the issues thoroughly. The change, the opportunity to make a difference, is really what has compelled me to want this position,” Black said.

Video: Joel Klein on Mayoral Control
Chancellor Joel I. Klein talks about the New York City school system under the control of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, during an Education Week Leadership Forum on “Powering Through the Recession,” in 2009.

More on Joel Klein from Education Week:

Bloomberg's Way (May 19, 2010) Chancellor Pledges Autonomy for Some N.Y.C. Schools (Jan. 31, 2006) N.Y.C. Chancellor Asks for Time To Fix Schools (Oct. 16, 2002)

Photo credit: Christopher Powers/Education Week

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.