More Dept. of Education top brass leave as Fariña asserts her vision for public education

The Department of Education has wasted no time shedding a slew of top Bloomberg-era officials, offering signs of the school system’s new priorities under Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Recent departures include heads of some of the department’s major offices, including the offices overseeing school support, the implementation of the Common Core learning standards, and school accountability—all areas where Fariña has said policy changes are on the way. Others who have left the department worked on initiatives that Bloomberg favored, such as new school development.

All told, at least 10 high-ranking officials have decamped or plan to resign soon, according to current and former employees. A department spokeswoman wouldn’t confirm the number of departures. 

Experts in school leadership transitions say the turnover isn’t a surprise, given the reshuffling that Fariña has done since taking over four months ago. Just last week, the department announced a major restructuring under Senior Deputy Chancellor Dorita Gibson, who was promoted from a deputy chancellor under Bloomberg.

The departures also mark a transition between mayors with starkly different visions for public education, said Joseph Viteritti, a public policy professor at Hunter College who has advised urban school district leaders in Boston, New York City and San Francisco during their transitions.

“I would think that the chancellor would want her own people in place so that they are aligned with a particular agenda that is in place,” Viteritti said.

Many of the officials have left for jobs at other education organizations. Sonia Park, who ran the city’s charter schools office, is now executive director at the Manhattan Charter School; Melissa Silberman, who’s steered the city’s expansion of Career and Technical Education programs, recently started at CollegeSpring, a college preparation organization aimed at low-income students.

Last week’s restructuring merged Park’s former office with the Office of New Schools, whose executive director, Alex Shub, is also leaving. The merger is one way Fariña and her new team of advisers are shifting the department’s focus from some of the initiatives Bloomberg favored, like the opening of more than 600 district and charter schools.

Also out is Andrea Coleman, who ran the city’s Innovation Zone, a wide-ranging initiative that encouraged schools to use technology to experiment with new approaches to learning. Another initiative beloved by Bloomberg, the iZone’s future under Fariña is more unclear, since the chancellor hasn’t talked much about technology during in her first 100 days as chancellor.

Coleman left last month to join Bloomberg Philanthropies, several sources confirmed.

There has also been a steady trickle of attrition from high-profile offices that Fariña has either already restructured or indicated that she plans to change. Chief Operating Officer Andrew Buher left recently, as have Josh Thomases and Jocelyn Alter, top aides to former Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky.

Thomases oversaw a variety of high-priority projects, such as the city’s Common Core implementation, while Alter was originally retained by Polakow-Suransky’s replacement, Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg, to stay on as chief of staff of the department’s reconstituted division of teaching and learning.

Justin Tyack, who served as chief executive officer of the city’s school support office, is also leaving, sources say. Tyack oversees more than 60 networks that provide support services to city schools, a system that Fariña has said she wants to overhaul (though she sent signals last week that changes wouldn’t happen soon).

Fariña’s hand-picked leaders have filled some of the holes. Anna Commitante, previously the city’s gifted and talented czar, is now in charge of professional development and the city’s Common Core implementation, while Gibson gave her chief of staff, Janel Matthews, some of the operations work that Buher had handled.

Other high-level departures include Andrew Kirtzman, who ran communications and strategy, and Julia Bator, who oversaw the Fund for Public Schools, the department’s philanthropic fundraising arm.

Taken together, the exits still represent a fraction of the department’s top ranks. There are also plenty of signs of intra-administration stability, including Bloomberg-era holdovers like Joanna Cannon, who was retained to oversee teacher evaluations, and Emily Weiss, who has shepherded through changes to the city’s grade promotion policies.

Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said that staff turnover was “planned for and expected.”

“Some DOE staff seek new opportunities, but many are also staying and continuing to champion the Chancellor’s vision of collaboration, partnership and focus on cultivating learning in the classroom,” Kaye said in a statement.

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