SUNY charter institute director to depart for New Orleans

(Photo courtesy Chartock)
(Photo courtesy Chartock)

The executive director of the State University of New York’s charter authorizer, Jonas Chartock, is leaving to lead a New Orleans-based teacher training program as it expands around the country, SUNY officials announced today.

Beginning in January, Chartock will head up the “Leading Educators” project. The group currently runs a professional development program in New Orleans aimed at keeping strong teachers in the classroom by grooming them for leadership positions that don’t take them away from students.

UPDATE: Chartock just weighed in with more details on the program. He will be charged with expanding the program around the United States, though he said that the group hasn’t yet finalized the first school districts and charter school chains where the program will initially grow. The national expansion won’t necessarily mean replicating the New Orleans program exactly as it is now, Chartock said, and part of his job will be to adapt the model for teachers in other school systems.

The program in New Orleans is currently part of New Leaders for New Schools, the Manhattan-based group whose co-founder, Jon Schnur, served as an advisor to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but will become an independent non-profit, Chartock said. The “Leading Educators” program is modeled after a similar teacher training program launched in the United Kingdom by Jay Altman, who now runs a charter network in New Orleans.

Chartock, who has led SUNY’s charter authorizer since 2008, saw the institute through this spring’s battle over raising the state’s cap on charter schools. He will also be leaving at a challenging time for charter schools and their authorizers, which are adjusting to revisions to the charter law.

Chartock is set to finish his work at SUNY in November, and SUNY officials said today they intend to launch a national search for his replacement.

SUNY Charter Schools Institute Director Tapped to Lead National Non-Profit Focused on Teacher Leadership

Albany – SUNY Trustees Chairman Carl Hayden and Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher congratulated Jonas S. Chartock on his exemplary leadership as he announced his departure from the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to develop an innovative non-profit organization.  Chartock will step down from his role as Executive Director of the SUNY Charter Schools to become the Chief Executive Officer of New Orleans based Leading Educators, an organization focused on supporting and developing teacher-leaders as change agents to ensure high academic achievement for every student. Chartock will lead the organization’s national expansion.

Chartock, 35, is a nationally recognized authority on education reform, school choice, and the professional development of quality teachers. Chartock has led the Charter Schools Institute with distinction, making quality improvements to Institute practices, expanding the Institute’s collaboration with state and national charter and educational organizations, and refining and executing the authorizing policies of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

Chartock will leave the Institute on November 15, 2010 and will assume his duties as Leading Educator’s first CEO on January 10, 2011.

SUNY will begin a national search for Chartock’s replacement.

“Jonas has led SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute with integrity and an unbeatable energy and enthusiasm for doing this work of charter authorizing right,” said SUNY Board Chairman Carl T. Hayden.  “He has successfully navigated the Institute through challenging times, all the while continuing to seize new opportunities for moving the organization to the next level. He will be greatly missed.”

“It comes as no surprise that Leading Educators would turn to SUNY as the source for its first CEO” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “I know Jonas will bring the expertise and innovative thinking he demonstrated at the Charter Schools Institute to his new role. We will miss him and wish him all the best.”

Prior to joining the Institute, Chartock was the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Charter School Policy Institute (CSPI) in Austin, Texas, a position he held since 2005. At CSPI, Chartock led a high quality, web-based policy and research enterprise dedicated to better understanding the concept of school choice. Prior to joining CSPI, Mr. Chartock served as Executive Director of Teach For America in Houston, Texas, where he was responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of over 500 first- and second-year teachers. He began his professional career as a teacher through Teach For America in the Compton Unified School District in Compton, California.

Julie Mikuta of NewSchools Venture Fund and a board member of Leading Educators, said, “We are thrilled that Jonas will lead the expansion of Leading Educators. This innovative organization will help schools keep the strongest teachers in the field, by effectively training them to lead other teachers in their schools to produce high levels of student achievement. Jonas brings a rare combination of skills and experiences that will enable Leading Educators to serve teachers and school systems nationwide.”

“This is a most exciting and bittersweet transition,” said Chartock. “SUNY has more than earned its reputation as a national exemplar in charter authorizing and it has been my privilege to lead this dynamic organization.  I hope to continue my support of the Institute and all of the wonderful people I met in my time there in my new role, dedicated to creating teacher-leaders for the benefit of all public schools.”

The National roll-out of Leading Educators is a partnership with Absolute Return for Kids, Teaching Leaders U.K., New Leaders for New Schools, NewSchools Venture Fund, and FirstLine Schools.

“I am excited to work to bring to scale a unique program that develops and retains our best teacher leaders in order to help more teachers significantly raise student achievement in their classrooms and across their schools,” explained Chartock.

Mr. Chartock is an Ed.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, with an anticipated degree date of spring 2011. He holds an Ed.M. in School Leadership from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education; an M.A. in Education: Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University; and a B.S. in Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”