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New York

DOE's public affairs director leaving to teach in Central America

Lenny Speiller, the education department's head of public affairs whose stint was checkered by a lobbying incident that got him into trouble with city investigators, is making an unusual career move. He's moving to Honduras to become a teacher. Speiller's exit is part of a restructuring within the Department of Education's communication and legislative offices meant to improve how the DOE communicates with members of the public, Chief Operating Officer Veronica Conforme told staff in an email this week. Speiller's role in charge of public affairs was to work with elected officials and community-based organizations on DOE initiatives and to curry support for the department's legislative goals. Under a four-office merger, public affairs will be folded into the External Affairs office. The other public-facing shops getting absorbed are: Communications, Digital Communications, and the Chancellor's Strategic Communications Group (a spokeswoman said the last one helps Dennis Walcott read and respond to emails from the public). Jessica Scaperotti, a former Cuomo and Bloomberg aide who joined the department in April, will over see the new streamlined office. Elizabeth Rose, a public affairs official, will temporarily fill in for Speiller while a permanent replacement is found. In announcing Speiller's departure to staff, Conforme didn't offer much of a reflection on his two-and-a-half year tenure, which was filled with a busy legislative agenda. During his time, Speiller worked on the successful push to raise the state's cap on  charter schools and on the less-successful effort to reform teacher tenure laws. But it was his work on the issue of seniority-based layoff laws that got him into trouble.
New York

After closure scare, Opportunity Charter gets five-year renewal

Opportunity Charter School's principal, Marya Baker, is optimistic about the Harlem school's future. Months after fighting to stay open, a troubled Harlem charter school has secured a long-term future after the Department of Education recommended that it receive the longest-possible charter renewal. Last fall, Opportunity Charter School was one of six charter schools whose performance landed them on the city's short-list for closure. Now the city is locked in legal battles to shutter two of schools, Peninsula Preparatory Academy and Williamsburg Charter High School. But Opportunity is set to keep its doors open until at least 2017. It's good news for Opportunity, a middle and high school that has had its share of performance and management troubles in recent years. The Harlem school stands apart from many charter schools because it serves older students and maintains an even balance of students with disabilities and students who do not require special education services. “Opportunity Charter is incredibly pleased to have been recognized by the city for all the hard work we do,” said Principal Marya Baker while chaperoning the school’s prom in the Bronx last Friday. “I think that we’re finally being recognized for being successful for a model that is incredibly difficult and something we feel we do very well — that is, having an inclusive setting for 50 percent of our students who have special needs.” The about-face is especially remarkable because the city recommended a shortened charter renewal for Opportunity in January. Short-term renewals are given when a charter school has failed to fulfill performance promises but is considered capable of improvement. Opportunity got one in 2010.
New York

Nadelstern: "I have spent years training people to replace me"

After 39 years, Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern is leaving the Department of Education just as new Chancellor Cathie Black is beginning her tenure. In a brief interview with GothamSchools on the day he announced his retirement, Nadelstern gave his take on why he's leaving and what he's leaving behind. What's the right greeting here?  Congrats? Well, it's congratulations and good luck. So why are you retiring now? And where are you off to? After almost 40 years I'm ready for new challenges. I've had a number of very interesting offers — public, private, not-for-profit — all around my area of expertise. I haven't decided yet, don't want to rush it. I may wind up teaching at a university...very strong offer along those lines. Had an offer from a state education department outside of New York...I'm sure when the time comes, my dance card will be full. In December you were telling people that you'd stay through the year. What changed? That was my intention. A couple of things really — I turned 60 in October, hopefully you'll have a chance to find out how reflective [you get] when you reach that milestone. I had a pension consultation recently and there were financial advantages to making the decision sooner than later. That and talking it over with my family thinking about the kinds of things in life after the DOE. It seemed like the right time. Does this have anything to do with Chancellor Cathie Black's arrival? It's completely independent. In the weeks I've worked with Cathie I've not only come to admire her, I've come to like her...There's an enormous amount to learn. I think in an earlier point in my career I [would have liked to work with her]. I think at this stage there are really other things that I'd like to do.