Act I Ends in NYC: Steiner can get some rest

The official announcement comes on Monday, but this being New York, word had “leaked” out on Friday.  “Mayor and State Reach Deal on a Schools Chief,” was the front-page headline in the Times.

Though our friend Sol Stern called the appointment of a career educator as second-in-command “a farce,” the deal brokered between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and State Education Commissioner David Steiner seemed a masterful compromise, made all the more interesting by the speed at which it was all accomplished:  from November 9, when Bloomberg shocked the education world with his announcement that Joel Klein was stepping down and publishing executive Cathleen Black would take his place, to yesterday’s deal – less than three weeks.

In those seventeen days we got to argue (re-argue!) about mayoral control, non-educators running public school systems, Klein’s legacy, and who Cathie Black was – and wasn’t; we saw Steiner appoint an eight-member panel of experts to advise him on whether to grant a legally-required waiver to non-educator Black, Checker call the need for a waiver “antiquated,” the special panel recommend no waiver, polls showing New Yorkers opposing Black, a flurry of celebs – including Gloria Steinem and Whoopee Goldberg – weighing in to support her, Steiner losing sleep.


In the end, Bloomberg proved himself an able compromiser and nimble seer of the political marketplace, accepting the offer made by Steiner, who proved himself  not just up to the task of staring down the billionaire mayor but also of defending the value of an education expertise, to appoint a seasoned educator as Black’s number two.

The “man with credentials,” Shael Polakow-Suransky, turns out to be a South African native raised in Michigan, who taught mathematics in New York City public schools before moving up the career ladder,  to assistant principal, principal, and, in the Klein regime, to an executive position overseeing the district’s pioneering system to track student performance.

Now, as he assumes the role of chief academic officer of the nation’s largest school system, Polakow-Suransky, who very few people, including educators, have heard of,  will have to get used to being on a brightly-lit stage in the klieg-light capital of the world; just as private industry CEO Cathie Black travels from the well-insulated corporate board room to the decidedly raucous arena of a sprawling public school system.

Stay tuned.  “Act II:  Scene 1: Another part of the Island….  Beseech you, sir, be merry; you have cause, so have we all, of joy; for our escape is much beyond our loss…”

–Peter Meyer

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College