New York State School Boards Association

Private donors funding talent for SED


On Board Online • January 24, 2011

By Brian M. Butry
Communications Coordinator 

A privately-funded group of educators will be guiding the State Education Department (SED) as it implements Race-to-the-Top reforms such as creating new teacher and principal evaluation systems, developing a statewide curriculum and redesigning assessment programs.

The Regents Research Fund has secured commitments for donations of about $4 million of a desired $18 million for the new “Fellows” program.

“The Fellows program will bring together bold thinkers who are passionate about reform and deeply committed to ensuring that all of our children receive the education they deserve,” said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “With the help of these talented thought leaders, we can make New York’s reform agenda a reality.”

Tisch wears a second hat: donor. A philanthropic fund named for Tisch and her husband, real estate developer James Tisch, has donated $1 million to the Regents Research Fund to sponsor Fellows. Other donations include $1.5 million from the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, $892,500 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $50,000 from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and $50,000 from the Carnegie Corporation. Just this month, the fund received a $500,000 grant from the Amy and Larry Robbins Foundation, a group that recently contributed $2 million towards the cost of building a new elementary charter school campus in New York City.

In an interview with On Board, Tisch said the program will need 13 Fellows.  She said the Fellows will bring a new level of expertise to a department that has been unable to replace needed staff over the past few years because of funding concerns. She called hiring additional SED staff “a bridge too far.”

Four Fellows hired so far work full-time out of the SED’s offices in New York City. Last month, SED announced that Matthew Gross will serve as executive director of the Regents Research Fund to administer the Fellow’s program as well as other philanthropic initiatives of the Regents.

Gross said SED staff has given him a lengthy to-do list for the Fellows.

“There’s such a huge need for research and analysis and design work at SED, considering the massive reform agenda they have on their hands,” he told On Board. “They’re very happy to have some extra hands tackling the problem.”

Gross expects the Fellows program to be fully staffed in six to 12 months. He’s optimistic the money will come through: “The philanthropic community is very enthusiastic about the idea of making a relatively modest investment to ensure these reforms are going to have as much of an impact as possible on the state’s 3 million school children,” he said. “We feel we have one very good shot to get this right and this program is going to help do that.”

Gross previously served as vice president for planning and resource development at PENCIL, which improves public schools by leveraging the skills and expertise of the business community. He began his career at Teach For America. He will earn $142,000.

The first four recipients of Regents Research Fellowships are: Kristen Huff, senior fellow for assessment; Amy McIntosh, senior fellow for teacher and principal effectiveness; Peter Swerdzewski, fellow for assessment; and Julia Rafal, fellow for teacher and principal effectiveness.

Huff spent seven years directing assessment design, research, and development programs at the College Board. She played a senior leadership role in the redesign of Advanced Placement courses and exams and the design of new SkillInsight reports for SAT. Her annual salary will be $189,500.

McIntosh has spent nearly 30 years serving in government, education and private sector leadership and management positions. Most recently, she served for six years in senior roles at the New York City Department of Education. As chief talent officer, she helped develop the system to measure the performance of thousands of elementary and middle school teachers in New York. She formerly served as CEO of Zagat Survey and senior vice president of D&B, one of the world’s leading providers of business information. She will earn $175,075.

Swerdzewski was most recently an assessment consultant to the New York City Department of Education. He previously worked with the College Board as an assistant research scientist. A 2002 graduate of James Madison University, he received his Ph.D. in Assessment and Measurement from JMU and worked with the university’s Center for Assessment and Research Studies on higher education assessment and accountability initiatives. He also served as an adjunct professor for assessment and public policy at the school. His salary has been set at $102,500.

Rafal is an education policy researcher and was most recently a manager for New Profit, a non-profit venture philanthropy fund involved with education and other critical social issues. Rafal began her career with Teach For America as a special education teacher in New York City. She also worked as an education consultant and strategic advisor to charter and public schools in New York City and Washington, D.C. Her salary is $98,500.

Gross says he will be looking “high and low” for innovators and national thought leaders to staff the program. The first step will be to fill the senior fellow and fellow positions for curriculum and professional development. Gross is responsible for making a recommendation for the position and winnowing the list of candidates before State Education Commissioner David Steiner interviews potential fellows and names them to the post.

Each Fellow hired is committed to two years of service, according to SED.

Areas of focus will be developing a K-12 statewide curriculum aligned to the common core state standards in ELA and math, then science and social studies; redesigning the state’s K-12 assessment system; implementing the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation systems, developing teacher performance assessments; building a virtual schools platform; and transforming the state’s General Education Development program.


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