After less than a year in a new role, the academic chief for the Achievement School District might be heading to Massachusetts.
Verna Ruffin was named one of two finalists to lead Lawrence, Ma. schools at a board meeting this week, according to The Eagle-Tribune. The board may make an appointment as soon as May 21. Lawrence is a district north of Boston that serves roughly 13,900 students, the majority of whom are Hispanic and from low-income families.
“I am deeply honored and am looking forward to interviewing with the committee next week,” Ruffin told Chalkbeat.
Ruffin’s role with the state-run district in Tennessee is new. She oversees the district’s five direct-run schools in Memphis called Achievement Schools, a role previously filled by the former executive director, Tim Ware. But unlike Ware, she was also charged with raising the academic bar across all 32 state-run schools and promoting more collaboration among them.
“When I was hired … as part of the new leadership, it was with the goal to restart the achievement schools and support the teams across our 32 schools,” Ruffin said. “That has been very meaningful work, but it’s been slower than I would have wanted mainly due to the leadership transitions.”
The state-run district was launched in 2011 to turn around schools performing in the bottom 5 percent of the state. But results have lagged, and school leaders say the work has been harder than expected in Memphis, where many of their students live in poverty and come to school below grade level.
Ruffin started during a chaotic time for the turnaround district. One month after she was hired last August, the district’s superintendent, Malika Anderson, announced she was stepping down. The state Department of Education named a new chief, Sharon Griffin, in March.
Ruffin said she was excited for the new phase under Griffin, saying “the achievement schools are going to be in excellent hands under her direction.”
Ruffin got her start in education more than 30 years ago as a band director in Louisiana before moving into school leadership roles. She was an assistant superintendent in Tulsa, Okla., where she specialized in working with low-performing schools, before becoming superintendent at Jackson-Madison County Schools in 2013. She earns $115,000 a year.