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Tenn. official to fill Virginia chief schools officer post

Posted at 12:11 PM, Mar 22, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has hired a Tennessee education official to serve as Virginia's chief schools officer after the previous employee in the role resigned for reasons the administration has declined to explain.

Tennessee Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons will take over the role of Virginia superintendent of public instruction effective April 17, the Virginia Department of Education announced Wednesday.

"Dr. Coons' proven leadership will serve Virginia's students, families and teachers well and help make Virginia's education system best-in-class," Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera said in a statement. "She has demonstrated success in addressing learning loss, creating and implementing evidence-based literacy policy and practices, and building strong partnerships with teachers, communities, school and division leaders, and parents."

Coons' hiring was announced less than a month after Jillian Balow said she was stepping down from the post. Balow did not specify a reason for her departure at the time, but indicated she had been offered the opportunity to do some work for the Youngkin administration as a consultant.

Both Youngkin and his press team have declined to answer questions about whether Balow was asked to leave. Her departure came as the Department of Education was facing criticism for recent missteps, including providing local K-12 school divisions with an incorrect mathematical formula that led them to expect more state funding than they were set to receive — a difference of $201 million over two fiscal years.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported this week, citing documents obtained through a public records request, that Balow will receive $266,213 in 24 severance payments over the next year.

In Coons' most recent job in Tennessee, she led all birth to grade-12 academic programming, according to the news release. She also worked as an executive officer of division priority schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools and as executive director of instructional leadership at the Tennessee Department of Education.

Youngkin also announced Wednesday the appointment of Goochland County Superintendent Jeremy Raley as the Virginia Department of Education's new chief of staff and the appointment of Dale Sturdifen to the state Board of Education. Sturdifen has worked for Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Good as a field director and unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the special election to fill the 4th District vacancy created by the death of U.S. Rep Donald McEachin in November.

A Marine veteran and retired state police special agent, Sturdifen will fill a spot on the board left open after Senate Democrats rejected a previous Youngkin nominee, Suparna Dutta. Democrats voted to remove Dutta, in part, over concerns about her lack of work history in education.

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