changes at the top

City's top special education deputy retiring as reforms roll out

The Department of Education’s first-ever deputy chancellor for special education and English language learners is stepping down.

Laura Rodriguez will leave the department at the end of June after 34 years working in the school system, Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today. He has appointed Corinne Rello-Anselmi, a 33-year veteran who currently heads a branch of the department’s school support structure, to replace Rodriguez. Rello-Anselmi began her career as a special education teacher and was briefly a deputy chancellor for special education after serving as principal of P.S. 108 in the Bronx.

Then-Chancellor Joel Klein created the position, which supervises the instruction of about a quarter of a million children, in 2009 after department officials concluded a months-long review of the city’s special education practices. Rodriguez, whose background was in supporting ELLs, was charged with integrating students with special needs into city schools. Under her leadership, the department selected about 200 schools that would accommodate all students.

This fall, after a one-year delay, that pilot program is supposed to grow to include all city schools in a shift that some advocates and parents fear could be problematic for schools. The city has also proposed changing the way that schools are funded so that they have an incentive to spread students with special needs across all classrooms.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done between now and September to make that successful, so anyone coming in will have to jump right in,” said Maggie Moroff, coordinator of the ARISE Coalition of special education advocacy groups. Moroff said she was surprised by the news of Rodriguez’s retirement and had not met Rello-Anselmi during her monthly meetings with Rodriguez and other department officials.

“We liked working with Laura and her staff. It’s been a very open relationship and she’s made some significant changes,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, so we look forward to getting to know the woman coming in.”

A member of the city’s special education parent advisory group said Rello-Anselmi will face with a difficult task.

“She has no idea of the buzz-saw that she is walking into right now,” said Ellen McHugh. “The questions and concerns about the special ed rollout are mounting and there are no answers at all.”

Walcott also promoted the executive director of the department’s Office of English language learners to join his cabinet of top advisors. Angelica Infante will report to Rello-Anselmi as she oversees a plan to open new bilingual and dual-language programs where students who are learning English can enroll, according to the city’s press release.

The city’s press release about the leadership changes is below.

CHANCELLOR WALCOTT ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT OF DEPUTY CHANCELLOR LAURA RODRIGUEZ

Corinne Rello-Anselmi Appointed Deputy Chancellor for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott today announced the retirement of Deputy Chancellor Laura Rodriguez after 34 years of service to New York City public schools. As Deputy Chancellor for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners, Ms. Rodriguez oversaw programs for hundreds of thousands of New York City’s most vulnerable children. Under her leadership, the Department launched a citywide reform to educate more students with disabilities alongside their peers, challenging a culture of separation that had existed in schools for decades. As a result of her work, thousands of students with disabilities across the City will be able to attend their neighborhood schools next fall and have access to a greater number of options in the future. Chancellor Walcott also announced today that effective July 1, Ms. Rodriguez will be replaced by Corinne Rello-Anselmi, who has served in New York City schools for 33 years and currently oversees 324 schools as leader of 12 school support networks. Prior to that, Ms. Rello-Anselmi was a deputy superintendent for special education, after serving 10 years as Principal of PS 108 in the Bronx, a school where she was a recipient of the Teacher’s College Cahn Fellowship for Distinguished Principals. Ms. Rello-Anselmi earned her Masters in special education from New York University and began her career at PS 108 as a teacher of students with disabilities.

“The Department of Education, advocates, and school communities will sorely miss Laura’s dedication and commitment to serving students with disabilities and English Language Learners,” said Chancellor Walcott. “Laura and I have worked closely together for years, and I have seen first-hand her professionalism, compassion for students, and genuine interest in building relationships with community groups and families. We look forward to building on Laura’s tremendous work as we expand our citywide reform of special education in the coming years.”

“As a graduate of New York City public schools, it has been a privilege and honor to serve our students and school communities throughout my career,” said Deputy Chancellor Rodriguez. “I know that the Department will continue the important and urgent work of improving education for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. I sincerely thank our leadership, my wonderful team, and all my colleagues and partners for their commitment to this work.”

Ms. Rodriguez began her work in New York City public schools in 1978. Prior to serving as a Deputy Chancellor, Ms. Rodriguez led the Department’s Leadership Learning Support Organization (LLSO), overseeing 136 schools and 76,000 students. Ms. Rodriguez began her career as a teacher of English Language Learners and held numerous positions in the Department of Education over the years, including: Regional Superintendent in the Bronx, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction in the Bronx, and Director of High School Bilingual Education and English as a Second Language. As Regional Superintendent in the Bronx, Ms. Rodriguez was one of the early leaders of the Mayor’s small school initiative and was responsible for the opening of 53 new small schools in the East Bronx.

As part of the transition announced today, the Executive Director of the Office of English Language Learners, Angelica Infante, will be promoted to serve as a member of the Chancellor’s cabinet and report to Ms. Rello-Anselmi. In that role, Ms. Infante will oversee a comprehensive action plan developed last year to add 125 new bilingual and dual-language programs in New York City, improve the process for immigrant families to choose appropriate programs for their children, and strengthen services for students who are long-term English Language Learners. The Department will also institute regular oversight to ensure that schools are offering the required range of options – bilingual, English as a Second Language (ESL) and dual-language programs – to eligible families.

Programs for students with disabilities and English Language Learners serve hundreds of thousands of students in New York City: 14.3 percent of New York City’s student population is still learning English, while 16.2 percent have a disability that requires special attention in school. There are more than 176 languages spoken in the City’s public schools.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”