State’s interim education commissioner resigns, latest in string of departures

Tahoe’s departure is the latest in a string of high-level exits at the state agency over more than a year.

Shannon Tahoe, interim state education commissioner, will resign Aug. 13. (New York State Education Department website)

The state education department’s interim commissioner will step down from her post on Aug. 13, marking yet another high-level departure within the agency. 

State officials did not answer questions about why Shannon Tahoe is leaving. The 14-year veteran of the department is resigning about eight months after she stepped temporarily into the top position, as POLITICO New York first reported. 

“When Ms. Tahoe took over the position, no one could have imagined that a global pandemic was on the horizon,” said Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown in a statement. “Ms. Tahoe capably led the Department through one of its most challenging times and proved herself as a dedicated and personable leader.”

Tahoe’s departure is the latest in a string of high-level exits at the state agency over more than a year. She replaced former Interim Commissioner Beth Berlin, who served in that role for about two months before leaving amid a flurry of other senior staffer exits. Berlin had been filling in for former Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who left the department last August.

Before Elia, former deputy commissioners Angelica Infante-Green and Jhone Ebert left for jobs overseeing public schools in Rhode Island and Nevada. Last fall the department filled several top-level positions.

Tahoe, who held various roles and had been the department’s deputy legal counsel, oversaw the department through major initiatives and challenges since November 2019. That includes a statewide process to rethink graduation requirements in New York, a state budget crisis, and now, a pandemic that has shuttered school buildings across the state, requiring sweeping regulatory changes and guidance for New York’s some 700 school districts.

Tahoe will stay on as the state reviews each district’s reopening plan, due July 31. Her last day comes the week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce whether schools can reopen in New York. Still, her departure marks more upheaval as districts grapple with the unprecedented challenges of planning the fall while accounting for social distancing and virus protection.

“In an incredibly difficult time, Interim Commissioner Tahoe has been willing to work with us to ensure our students and school staff have the highest-quality education system possible. We wish her well in her next endeavor,” said Andy Pallotta, president of the state teachers union, in a statement. 

Charles Dedrick, executive director of the state council of superintendents, said Tahoe “won admiration and gratitude from superintendents all across our state,” and they were “sorry to see her leave.”

The Board expects to name an acting commissioner before Tahoe leaves. Regents are currently searching for a permanent state education commissioner, a role that has been left without a permanent leader for nearly a year. The Regents have hired search firm AGB Search for $87,500 to conduct a national search through Sept. 30, and had said they expected to hire someone this summer. 

But on Friday, after this was story published, department spokesperson Emily DeSantis said the Regents’ search will now continue through at least Oct. 1, citing “paramount tasks ahead.”

“The Board of Regents’ efforts are currently focused on working toward the safe reopening of schools in New York State in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” DeSantis said.

To “protect the integrity of the process,” department officials have declined to reveal any part of the search process, including how many applications they have received, how many people the Regents have interviewed so far, and what cities and towns applications have come from. 

The board will hold an executive session — a closed-door meeting — on July 31 to discuss “personnel matters,” DeSantis said, but she did not immediately say whether Regents would discuss Tahoe’s temporary replacement or the search for a permanent commissioner.

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