Yet another top departure in Albany: New York’s interim education commissioner is leaving

Beth Berlin, the state’s interim education chief, is leaving the department next month, marking the fourth high-level departure this year from the agency. 

Berlin, who has worked for the department for six years, is leaving for a “new opportunity,” Chancellor Betty Rosa and Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown said in a statement. This was the second time she filled in as commissioner as the department sought someone to fill the role permanently. 

“There were challenges in trying to find balance between my personal and professional life,” Berlin wrote in a letter to state education officials obtained by Chalkbeat. The mom of three, who lives near Albany, wanted to “rebalance” her time with her husband and children, she wrote.

“I recognize there are challenges before the Board and Department,” she added, “and I will miss being a part of the team to address those obstacles.”

Berlin was appointed interim commissioner last month after the departure of MaryEllen Elia, who had served as commissioner for four years. Elia’s departure came after two of her top deputies also left their posts.

The department declined to say where Berlin was heading. As when Elia departed, Rosa and Brown said they would “take a more active role in the activities of the Department during this time of transition.”

Education observers said they were surprised by the announcement.

“I think it’s a setback for the day-to-day workings of the department and the implementation of the Regents’ vision,” said David Bloomfield, an education policy professor at the CUNY Grad Center and Brooklyn College.

Chuck Dedrick, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said Berlin’s abrupt departure is “very concerning to us.”

“Over the last few months so many people have left and there are so many vacancies,” he said.

Dedrick added that he hopes the Regents take their time finding a replacement. “The mistake, in my opinion, would be to hurry the search and get a candidate in who isn’t necessarily the best.”

The Regents plan to appoint a new acting commissioner by Nov. 15, which is Berlin’s last day. To help find a new permanent education commissioner, they plan to issue a request for proposals to hire a search firm, Friday’s statement said. Last month, Chancellor Betty Rosa said the Regents would be “taking our time” in their search. 

“Through Ms. Berlin’s leadership, the Department has excelled in a number of areas,” said the statement from Rosa and Brown, “and the Board of Regents appreciates Ms. Berlin’s steady hand, calm manner and thoughtful counsel that she provided day in and day out.”