Movers & shakers

Tennessee taps high-profile school superintendent as deputy ed commissioner

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Lyle Ailshie (center) participates in a 2015 panel discussion on the state of education in Tennessee. The event was organized by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.

Preparing students for college and the workforce is core to Gov. Bill Haslam’s education agenda, and Tennessee is now turning to one of its go-to district leaders to oversee part of that work.

Lyle Ailshie

Kingsport City Schools Superintendent Lyle Ailshie will be the state’s new deputy education commissioner over college, career and technical education, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday.

He’ll also oversee the State Department of Education’s work over teacher preparation, licensure and effectiveness at a time when Tennessee is stepping up efforts to improve and align teacher training programs with the state’s needs.

A 35-year educator, Ailshie has led districts in Kingsport and Greeneville for 17 years. He is a past president of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and was named Tennessee’s Superintendent of the Year in 2005.

Ailshie (pronounced Al-SHYE’) most recently served as chairman of a key state committee helping to revise Common Core standards for math and English language arts to make them more Tennessee-centric. Those standards will reach classrooms this fall.

He also served on the working group of education stakeholders who helped state education leaders develop Tennessee’s school accountability plan under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Ailshie is a frequent participant on state panels hosted by the department and by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a Nashville-based research and advocacy group founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

Beginning in mid-August, he will oversee the state division that includes school counselors, career and technical education, student readiness, work-based learning, student leadership programs and Pathways Tennessee, an industry partnership to link education to labor market needs and trends. In addition, he’ll run the division that oversees teachers and leaders.

The appointment is part of a reorganization that moves both divisions from the oversight of Chief Academic Officer Vicki Kirk, who will serve with Ailshie on the commissioner’s leadership team. The changes follow the departure earlier this year of Danielle Mezera, who served as assistant commissioner of college, career and technical education. She’ll be replaced by Casey Haugner Wrenn, who has been with the division since 2012.

College and career readiness has been an education focus under Haslam’s administration and McQueen’s strategic plan.

In 2013, the governor announced his Drive to 55 initiative to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by 2025. Two years later, McQueen unveiled a five-year strategic plan for K-12 education with goals that include getting the majority of high school graduates from the Class of 2020 to earn a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree. Currently, about a fourth of the state’s graduates complete postsecondary programs, while almost 60 percent enroll in them.

Other components of the strategic plan include revamping teacher preparation and focusing the role of high school counselors, both of which will come under Ailshie’s purview in his new job.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”