making moves

As school year ends, Carranza announces major changes at New York City’s education department

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Chancellor Richard Carranza

Just three months into his tenure leading the nation’s largest school system, schools chancellor Richard Carranza announced a major personnel shake-up at the city’s Department of Education.

The sweeping new structure is meant to “streamline” the way principals and district superintendents are supported by creating another level of executive superintendents, the education department said.

The effort to create clear lines of command is reminiscent of a reorganization that former Chancellor Carmen Fariña instituted when she took the helm of the nation’s largest school system. However, the overhaul is also likely meant to correct for some elements of Fariña’s plan that have drawn criticism, including from principals who complained they weren’t always sure where to go to seek support. In addition, the changes appear to demote or revise the responsibilities of several key leaders who served under Fariña.

Dorita Gibson, who served as Fariña’s top deputy, and oversaw the entire school support system, will now serve as an “executive advisor” on community engagement. Elizabeth Rose, another Fariña deputy, will become the “CEO for school operations.”

Phil Weinberg, who served as a deputy chancellor under Fariña, will now report to the chief academic officer — instead of reporting directly to the chancellor. Milady Baez, another deputy who oversaw English learners, has left the education department entirely.

The new structure will introduce nine new executive superintendents to the system’s governance — a level of oversight that didn’t previously exist. This new leadership will oversee both the district superintendents who manage school principals and the Field Support Centers that provide help to principals with everything from budgeting to teacher training. The change appears to address a complaint sometimes voiced by school leaders that it was not clear who is directly responsible for supporting schools, since the superintendents did not directly supervise the field support centers.

“Principals have shared that they sometimes receive conflicting messages from multiple offices within the DOE,” Carranza wrote in a report based on his “listening tour” that was also released Wednesday. “My takeaway is that we need to communicate more clearly and consistently with educators, parents, and stakeholders.”

Those nine new executive superintendents, who have not yet been hired, will be overseen by Cheryl Watson-Harris, who will serve as First Deputy Chancellor.

Watson-Harris led the field support offices since 2017, but her role recently expanded to oversee the Renewal turnaround program for struggling schools — and she was even rumored to be a chancellor candidate, prior to Carranza’s appointment.

Also rising in the ranks of the chancellor’s inner-circle, LaShawn Robinson will serve as the Deputy Chancellor of School Climate & Wellness, who will oversee the district’s vision for supporting students socially and emotionally.

Karin Goldmark, who served as senior education advisor to First Deputy Mayors Dean Fuleihan and Anthony Shorris, will become the Deputy Chancellor of School Planning & Development and lead efforts to open new schools, as well as coordinate with charter schools.

In the announcement on Wednesday, Carranza said he made the decisions based on feedback he received while touring the district after taking the reins from Fariña in April.

Fariña’s changes were largely meant to give more power to superintendents to shape instruction and oversee principals. They were a reaction to the power structure ushered in by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who favored giving principals more authority to make decisions about their schools.

While some argued the Bloomberg-style leadership structure didn’t provide enough support or guardrails for principals, many principals felt overcome with too much paperwork and too little autonomy under Fariña. It’s unclear whether Carranza’s new structure will become an additional burden on principals or help alleviate some of the pressure they are under.

Here are other positions to note:

  • A new position of Chief Academic Officer was created but is unfilled.
  • Phil Weinberg’s new title: Deputy Chief Academic Officer for the Division of Teaching & Learning.
  • Corinne Rello-Anselmi’s new title: Deputy Chief Academic Officer of Special Education and Student Services.
  • Mariano Guzmán is the interim Deputy Chief Academic Officer of English Language Learners and Student Support.
  • Josh Wallack will continue as Deputy Chancellor of Early Education and Student Enrollment.
  • Ursulina Ramirez will continue as Chief Operating Officer.
  • In May, Carranza appointed Edie Sharp, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio, as his chief of staff.



The education department’s new organizational chart.

Top teacher

Former Tennessee teacher of the year wins prestigious national award

Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Franklin, receives the 2019 NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence. (Photo courtesy of NEA)

Former Tennessee teacher of the year Cicely Woodard has received the nation’s highest teaching honor through its largest teacher organization.

The eighth-grade math educator in Franklin accepted the Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence from the NEA Foundation. The honor, which includes a $25,000 prize, was presented Friday at a gala in Washington, D.C.

“Teaching can be time-consuming, challenging, and sometimes overwhelming,” said Woodard. “But the impact that we make on the lives of students — and that they make on us — is powerful, life-changing, and enduring.”

A graduate of Central High School in Memphis, Woodard has been a teacher since 2003. She taught in Nashville public schools when she was named Tennessee’s top teacher in 2018 and has since moved to Franklin Special School District in Williamson County, south of Nashville, where she teaches at Freedom Middle School.

Woodard was among 46 educators nominated for the NEA Foundation award by their state education associations and was one of five finalists who received the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, which carries an additional $10,000 prize. The Member Benefits Award winner was announced at the finale of the gala attended by 900 people.

“Cicely has been selected for this award by her peers not only because of her mastery as an educator, but also because of the empathy and compassion she shows for her students,” said Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation.

Known for her inquiry-based approach to mathematics, Woodard holds a bachelor’s degree in math from the University of Memphis and a master’s degree in secondary math education from Vanderbilt University.

She has had numerous state-level roles, including serving on the education department’s teachers cabinet and on the testing task force created by former Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. She also is on the steering committee for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, a Nashville-based education research and advocacy organization.

You can watch Woodard in her classroom in the video below.

Penny Schwinn

What we heard from Tennessee’s education commissioner during her first week

Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn (right) speaks with students during a visit to LEAD Neely's Bend, a state-run charter school in Nashville. (Photo courtesy of LEAD Public Schools)

From students in the classroom to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Penny Schwinn introduced herself as Tennessee’s education commissioner this week by praising the state’s academic gains over the last decade and promising to keep up that momentum by supporting school communities.

Schwinn toured seven schools in Middle and East Tennessee during her first three days on the job to get a firsthand look at what’s behind the academic growth that she’s watched from afar as chief accountability officer for Delaware’s education department and more recently as deputy commissioner over academics in Texas. She plans to visit schools in West Tennessee next week.

The goal, she said, is to “listen and learn,” and she told a statewide gathering of superintendents at midweek that Tennessee’s successes can be traced to the classroom.

“It has to do with the hard work of our educators … every single day getting up, walking in front of our children, and saying ‘You deserve an excellent education, and I’m going to be the one to give it to you,’” she said.

On policy, she affirmed Tennessee’s decade-long blueprint of setting rigorous academic standards, having a strong assessment to track performance, and holding school communities accountable for results.

“If we can keep that bar high … then I think that Tennessee will continue to improve at the rate that it has been,” she told legislators during an appearance before the House Education Committee.

Schwinn was the final cabinet member to start her job after being hired by Republican Gov. Bill Lee just days before his inauguration on Jan. 19. Her whirlwind first week began with school visits on Monday and concluded on Friday by attending a policy-heavy session of the State Board of Education.

But perhaps the biggest introduction came on Wednesday before district leaders attending a statewide meeting of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, also known as TOSS. These are the local administrators she’ll work with most closely to try to improve student performance.

The superintendents group had stayed neutral about who should succeed Candice McQueen in the state’s top policy job but hoped for a leader with extensive experience both in the classroom and as a Tennessee school superintendent. Schwinn is neither, having started her career in a Baltimore classroom through Teach For America and later founding a charter school in her hometown of Sacramento, California, where she also was a principal and then became an assistant district superintendent.

She appeared to wow them.

“Our job at the state Department of Education is to figure out what you all need to help your teachers be the best that they can be for our students. My job is to lead this department to ensure that this happens,” she told the superintendents.

Schwinn shared a personal story about adopting her oldest daughter, now age 6, and the “powerful moment” at the hospital when the birth mom said she loved her baby but couldn’t provide her with the future she deserves. “I think you can,” she told Schwinn, “and so I’m giving you my baby.”

Penny Schwinn speaks to the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. (Photo courtesy of TOSS)

“When I think about my responsibility as a teacher or a principal or as commissioner of the state of Tennessee, I think about all of our parents … who pack up lunches, pack up backpacks, drop them off at the door and they give us their babies,” she said.

“That is the most powerful and important responsibility that we have as educators,” she said, “and I take that very, very seriously.”

Several superintendents stood up to thank her.

“I am encouraged. I feel like you have the heart that we all have,” said Linda Cash, who leads Bradley County Schools in southeast Tennessee.

“What she did most is she listened,” said TOSS Executive Director Dale Lynch of his earlier meeting with Schwinn. “As superintendents and directors, that’s very important to us.”

Here are other things we heard Schwinn say this week:

On whether Tennessee will continue its 3-year-old literacy program known as Read to be Ready:

“It is incredibly important that we have initiatives that stick and that have staying power. I think we’ve all had the experience of having … one-and-done initiatives that come and go. … From [my early school] visits, it was underscored time and time again the importance of initiatives like that.”

On the role of early childhood education:

“I think that early education — and that’s both academic and social development — is incredibly important to ensure that we get kindergartners who are ready to learn and ready to be successful.”

On the state-run turnaround district for Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools:

“High expectations are the vision of the Achievement School District, but I think there’s a lot of work to be done candidly. There are good conversations to be had and some questions to be asked. But I will say that I am committed to ensuring that our lowest-performing schools achieve and grow at a much faster rate than they have been.”

On Texas’ academic growth in the 1990s that later flattened:

“They got very comfortable. It was, ‘We’re just doing just fine, we’re doing a great job,’ and then slowly some of the big reforms that they put into place in the ’90s started peeling back little by little. … It’s hard to get things done, but it’s really hard to hold the line.”

Here are six other things to know about Penny Schwinn.