Former Indianapolis principal hired to overhaul Memphis charter school office

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Brad Leon, chief of strategy and performance management for Shelby County Schools, confers in 2016 with the district's charter overseers including Stacey Thompson and Charisse Sales. Leon will continue to supervise the office now headed by Daphnè Robinson.

Tennessee’s largest hub of charter schools has a new director who will build her team from the ground up, replacing the managers who have overseen the growing sector since its inception in Memphis in 2003.

Daphnè Robinson started this week with Shelby County Schools and will manage applications, renewals and evaluations for its 45 charter schools. She replaces Charisse Sales, who has led the office for more than a decade and will stay with the school system in another capacity.

Most recently, Robinson worked three years as a principal at an Indianapolis charter school, where since 2005 she held various positions including enrollment coordinator and director of counseling.

She is also the wife of Memphis Education Fund CEO Marcus Robinson, who joined the philanthropic collaborative last summer and has brought several colleagues with him from Tindley Accelerated Schools in Indianapolis, where his wife also worked. Formerly known as Teacher Town, the Memphis Education Fund invests in the city’s lowest-performing public schools through programs such as the district’s Innovation Zone.

The leadership change in the charter school office comes as Shelby County Schools seeks to overhaul its oversight of the sector in consultation with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Last year, the group affirmed the work of the three-person charter team but recommended hiring specialists and reorganizing the office as the district seeks to double its staffing.

In a statement this week, district leaders praised Sales and her team and dismissed concerns about the wholesale turnover.

“We are confident that with the institutional knowledge of Chief of Strategy and Performance Management Brad Leon (who has supervised the charter office since 2013), and under the leadership of Daphnè Robinson, the new staffing plan will help ensure we are able to align our work to national best practices,” the statement said.

Colleagues who worked with Robinson in Indianapolis said she’ll bring on-the-ground charter school experience to Memphis.

“She knows which systems that need to be in place for non-negotiables to have a high bar of excellence that become a control across the city,” said Memphis’ Gateway University school founder Sosepriala Dede, who was a Tindley vice principal when she was director of counseling there. “What they specialize in (at Tindley) is exactly what Memphis charter schools need.”

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”