Senior NYC education department official joins XQ, a Laurene Powell Jobs-backed school initiative

The chancellor’s Chief of Staff, Ursulina Ramirez, lingered in Carmen Fariña’s empty office after the chancellor left the education department headquarters.

After leaving her post as the education department’s chief operating officer, Ursulina Ramirez has quietly started a job at XQ Institute, a deep-pocketed organization devoted to launching high schools across the country, including in New York City.

Ramirez left her high-level city job last month along with a flurry of other senior education officials in the midst of the city’s effort to reopen school buildings for the first time since March. 

XQ is backed by the Emerson Collective, the philanthropic arm of Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs. (Emerson is a funder of Chalkbeat through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.)

XQ has been increasingly partnering directly with governments to launch new schools, and it appears Ramirez will be part of that effort, drawing on her leadership experience within the nation’s largest school system. Her title at XQ is “head of systems strategy,” according to its website.

A spokesperson for XQ did not immediately respond to a request for more information about Ramirz’s position. Ramirez could not be reached Thursday night.

Ramirez worked for Mayor Bill de Blasio when he was the city’s public advocate. When he became mayor, she moved to the education department to become chief of staff for then-schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, eventually becoming the department’s chief operating officer.

XQ has already been trying to expand its footprint in New York City: Last year, the organization announced plans to give $10 million to launch 10 new high schools, part of the education department’s broader effort to launch or retool 40 schools.

That effort appears to have been stalled by the pandemic; the first round of winning teams were slated to be announced in May, but the city was focused then on adapting schools to remote learning as the coronavirus raged across the city.

XQ is devoted to supporting innovative new high schools, including a mix of charter and district schools, though the organization generally has not pushed a specific model for “reinventing” high school. Instead, XQ argues that the future of work is changing rapidly and public schools have hardly changed to adapt — sometimes leaning on overhyped or misleading claims about the labor market to make their case.

The organization has run flashy competitions, including in New York City, to create schools of the future and offered funding to winning teams. It’s not clear whether the schools XQ has supported have been successful, and some have faced significant setbacks. 

XQ has largely sidestepped contentious education debates, including arguments about the merits of charter schools, and has earned praise from some union officials. At the same time, the organization has faced criticism from charter school foes and those who are generally opposed to private dollars financing public education initiatives.

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