The 2021 Education Power 100
The 2021 Education Power 100
Last summer, City & State asked Betty Rosa whether the 2020-2021 school year would be a lost year due to the myriad challenges posed by COVID-19. The newly installed interim state education commissioner rejected the idea, but acknowledged a “loss of learning” that would have to be rectified. “And we have an obligation, we have to make a commitment in terms of what are the kinds (of things) that we do to make up for that,” she said, from ensuring that remote learning is effective in the short term to potential long-term measures such as year-round school. The path forward hasn’t gotten any easier in the months since then, but vaccination efforts are underway – and whenever things do get back to normal, New York will benefit from having some of the best minds in crafting educational policy. City & State’s annual Education Power 100 recognizes the public officials and policymakers, superintendents and scholars, advocates and activists, and labor, business and nonprofit leaders who are putting in countless hours to ensure New York’s students get a top-notch education – pandemic or no.
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1. Betty Rosa
Interim Commissioner, State Education Department
In a time of crisis, New York turned to Betty Rosa to steady the ship. The former Board of Regents chancellor last summer became the fourth person to lead the state Department of Education in roughly a year, taking over as interim commissioner as a nationwide search for a replacement continues. Rosa, who as chancellor worked directly with her predecessors, has overseen the coronavirus response in New York schools, including a partial return to in-person learning.
2. Richard Carranza
Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
As the leader of the nation’s largest public school system, Richard Carranza’s decisions affect the everyday lives of hundreds of thousands of students and families in New York City. Yet despite some successes, such as student gains at resource-intensive community schools, Carranza has faced a fierce backlash on efforts to scrap exams to get into elite high schools and gifted and talented programs – and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has exerted control over local COVID-19 school shutdowns and reopenings.
3. Lester Young
Chancellor, New York State Board of Regents
Lester Young was unanimously elected by his fellow Regents this year to serve as the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, the influential governmental body that sets educational policy and oversees the state Education Department. Young, who has some 50 years of experience positively transforming schools and programs, from teacher to high-level administrator, succeeds Betty Rosa, who shifted to the post of interim education commissioner last year.
4. Michael Mulgrew
President, United Federation of Teachers
Michael Mulgrew, the longest-serving classroom teacher to lead the UFT, has headed the 200,000-member public school labor union for more than a decade. His track record includes securing two union contracts in 2014 and 2018. During the coronavirus pandemic, Mulgrew called on New Yorkers to help stop the spread of the virus so schools could stay open as the union rolled out a program to accelerate the distribution of vaccines to its members.
5. Andrew Pallotta
President, New York State United Teachers
Andrew Pallotta has directly influenced how school districts across New York have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. He has insisted on safe conditions for teachers, backed the state’s recent move to cancel standardized testing, and just launched a campaign to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund education and health care. Elected in 2017 to lead the statewide teachers union and reelected last year, Pallotta helped Democrats win a pivotal majority in the state Senate.
6. Shelley Mayer
Chair, State Senate Committee on Education
A new supermajority for her conference has changed the rules of the game for state Sen. Shelley Mayer. The Hudson Valley lawmaker will have more leverage with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to seek state aid for schools during the budget crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic. Mayer also has made a push to increase broadband internet access in response to thousands of low-income and homeless students who were left with limited or no access during home learning.
7. John Liu
Chair, State Senate New York City Education Committee
As head of the chamber’s New York City education committee, state Sen. John Liu has been sounding the alarm that the financial impact of the pandemic will likely dominate this year’s legislative agenda. He also urged the city to consult more families on admission reforms after Mayor Bill de Blasio enacted major changes to how selective middle and high schools admit their students at the start of the new year. Liu has represented the 11th District in northeast Queens since 2019.
8. Michael Benedetto
Chair, Assembly Committee on Education
With a massive, pandemic-driven budget deficit threatening state education funding, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto has warned of the need for some combination of tax increases, spending cuts or both. Benedetto has recently opened up the possibility to make changes to New York City’s system of mayoral control, a hot-button issue in Albany. A Bronx native, he was first elected to the Assembly in 2004 after a 35-year, award-winning teaching career at the elementary and secondary school level.
9. Mark Cannizzaro
President, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators
Mark Cannizarro heads the 6,100-member union chapter that represents New York City public school principals and the directors and assistant directors working in city-subsidized Centers for Early Childhood Education, plus a retiree roster more than 10,000-strong. Going into 2021, he expressed hope that COVID-19 vaccines will be “widely distributed” by late spring, enabling a full return to in-person learning this fall.
10. Kriner Cash
Superintendent, Buffalo Public Schools
When Kriner Cash was hired to run Buffalo Public Schools in 2015, the odds were not in the schools’ favor for a lengthy tenure. He was the seventh superintendent to take the job leading the Buffalo contingent of the state’s “Big 5” school districts in six years. But in December, Cash had his contract extended through 2023. Overseeing 34,000 students as the leader of the school district in the state’s second-largest city, Cash has seen graduation rates and student test scores rise, while finances have also improved.
11. Edwin Quezada
Superintendent, Yonkers Public Schools
Edwin Quezada is the top school official in a district that returned to full remote learning in the new year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and which also grappled with the tragic loss of four 18-year-old graduates who died in a car crash just before the holidays. Originally hailing from the Dominican Republic, Quezada’s sustained leadership led to the district rewarding his efforts with a contract extension last year.
12. Jaime Alicea
Superintendent, Syracuse City School District
Superintendent Jaime Alicea extended remote learning into the new year by two weeks after 69 staff members and 79 students tested positive for COVID-19 over winter break. It has since returned to the hybrid model. Alicea, who started in the district as a teaching assistant and has worked at every level there over three decades, prioritizes building a robust culture of parent engagement to boost academic performance in Syracuse public schools, one of the state’s “Big 5” districts.
13. Lesli Myers-Small
Superintendent, Rochester City School District
The first Black president of the New York State School Counselor Association, Rochester City School District Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small has consistently made a major impact in the field of education. Her advocacy in Washington was partly responsible for the largest-ever increase to the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program. As the state Education Department’s assistant commissioner for the Office of Innovation and School Reform, she successfully helped put in place several new programs designed to help struggling schools.
14. Mark Treyger
Chair, New York City Council Education Committee
As the head of New York City Council’s education committee, Council Member Mark Treyger has found himself on the front lines of a myriad of crises. Case in point: In December, he called upon New York City schools to improve their “Situation Room,” which was created to alert the school community upon detection of a confirmed COVID-19 case within a school. He previously spent eight years teaching world history, government and economics at New Utrecht High School. He also has had an active role in the United Federation of Teachers.
15. Jasmine Gripper
Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education
As executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, Jasmine Gripper has led a grassroots effort seeking to end systemic racism and economic oppression in public schools in New York by focusing on policy action and legislative expertise. As state revenue has dried up over the past 12 months due to the pandemic, Gripper has continued to warn against cutting millions from aid programs.
16. Leonie Haimson
Founder and Executive Director, Class Size Matters
Leonie Haimson has been one of the loudest voices raised against remote learning during the pandemic. Her concerns have revolved around untenably large remote classes that negatively impact student-teacher relationships in New York City public schools. The longtime parent advocate is known for battling the bureaucracy, including her successful effort to shut down InBloom, a state contractor accused of improper student data collection, as co-founder of the national Parent Coalition for Student Privacy.
17. Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers
Randi Weingarten is among the most visible faces in education in New York and across the United States. She is the head of the second-largest union in the country – the AFT has 1.7 million members – and was previously president of the United Federation of Teachers. Weingarten welcomed President Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, by calling for a national effort to reopen schools and more pandemic relief funding.
18. Jenny Sedlis
Executive Director, StudentsFirstNY
Jenny Sedlis has run StudentsFirstNY since 2013, advocating for charter schools by lobbying elected officials and backing charter-friendly candidates. StudentsFirstNY’s PAC shelled out more than $6 million in 2020, helping state Sen. Kevin Thomas fend off a challenger backed by the New York City Police Benevolent Association. Sedlis co-founded the Success Academy Charter Schools with her former boss in the New York City Council, Eva Moskowitz, and she is the board chair of Zeta Charter Schools.
19. Diane Ravitch
Co-Founder and President, Network for Public Education
Decades at the forefront of education issues at the local, state and national levels have made Diane Ravitch one of the most influential voices on the subject, as has her background in policy, analysis, history and advocacy. Now a professor at New York University, Ravitch’s opposition to both school privatization and high-stakes testing led her to co-found and lead the advocacy group Network for Public Education in New York, which aims to help support public schools.
20. Robert Jackson
Chair, State Senate Committee on Cities
Long before state Sen. Robert Jackson became a lawmaker, he was a local education official in New York City who helped bring the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that led to a ruling awarding billions of dollars to the city school system. Now, the Manhattan politician is relying on that experience to support ongoing efforts to boost state education funding and distribute it more equitably, both through litigation and in the state Legislature.
21. James Merriman
CEO, New York City Charter School Center
As the longtime leader of the New York City Charter School Center, James Merriman is one of the leaders of the growing charter school movement in New York and nationwide. While Merriman and elected officials in both parties point to strong test scores for charter school students, they have faced opposition from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and lawmakers allied with influential teachers unions. Merriman recently called on City Hall to extend COVID-19 testing to charter school students.
22. Robert Schneider
Executive Director, New York State School Boards Association
Since succeeding longtime boss Timothy Kremer last year, state School Boards Association Executive Director Robert Schneider now faces the daunting task of getting children back into classrooms in the midst of a pandemic. Currently serving as the sole representative in Albany of more than 5,000 board members from 678 school districts throughout the state, Schneider joined the NYSSBA in 1999, and was chief operations officer and director of finance for the organization before assuming his current role.
23. Robert Lowry Jr.
Deputy Director for Advocacy, Research and Communications, New York State Council of School Superintendents
Bob Lowry developed his policy chops over the course of a long career in Albany – he was the assistant secretary for education and the arts under former Gov. Mario Cuomo – by holding positions including school aid analyst with the Assembly and as New York State United Teachers policy wonk. In his current role with the New York State Council of School Superintendents, Lowry regularly provides insight on the state budget to schools throughout New York.
24. Eva Moskowitz
Founder and CEO, Success Academy Charter Schools
Eva Moskowitz heads New York City’s largest charter school network, with 47 schools in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens and an enrollment of 20,000 students. The entire network went on full remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic through the end of December, passing on a hybrid model that would have included in-person learning, and recently announced that its remote-only model would be in place throughout the rest of the academic year – a marked departure from the city’s efforts to reopen schools.
25. Ronald Lauder & Kirsten John Foy
Funder; Member, Board of Advisers, Education Equity Campaign
The billionaire business mogul Ronald Lauder is putting his money where his mouth is. While defending the high-stakes entrance exam for New York City’s elite high schools, Lauder and former Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help low-income students prepare for it. A high-profile supporter of their Education Equity Campaign is Kirsten John Foy, a civil rights activist and the founder of Arc of Justice. The organization also wants to expand gifted and talented programs.
26. Eliza Shapiro
Reporter, The New York Times
Eliza Shapiro covers education for the Times, which she joined in 2018. While writing about the depth and breadth of the pandemic’s impact on the school landscape, Shapiro has closely monitored whether New York can get more students into classrooms before the end of the school year. Shapiro knows her beat well: She grew up in New York and attended both public and private schools in New York City.
27. Michael Deegan
Superintendent of Schools, Archdiocese of New York
Michael Deegan was named superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of New York in September 2019. Since then, he has had to deal with multiple crises, first and foremost the impact of the pandemic on the Archdiocese schools coming hard on the heels of historically low enrollment numbers – a one-two punch that has rendered the rest of Deegan’s agenda secondary to rapidly and effectively adapting to the new reality.
28. Joseph Belluck
Chair, SUNY Charter Schools Committee
One of just a few entities that have the power to authorize a charter school opening, renewal, revision or closure or is the State University of New York. The university system’s Charter Schools Committee, which is led by Joseph Belluck, oversees that process, which often has political ramifications. Belluck, who is an attorney and partner at Belluck & Fox, also chairs the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.
29. Jennifer Pyle
Executive Director, Conference of Big 5 School Districts
As the face of the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, Jennifer Pyle tackles an array of challenges faced by the public school districts in New York’s five largest cities – and, as of 2014, several other urban school districts of similar size. Previously the organization’s deputy director, Pyle advocates for adequate funding for each of the districts she represents – a tall order, indeed, especially during the pandemic.
30. Kaweeda Adams
Superintendent, Albany City School District
Before being named superintendent for the school district of Albany in 2017, Kaweeda Adams served as the assistant superintendent of the Clark County School District in Nevada, where she led the district of 30,000 students over the course of a nearly three-decade tenure. Like superintendents across the rest of the state and the country, Adams is working tirelessly to get students back into classrooms and to work within severe, coronavirus-impacted budget constraints.
31. David Little
Executive Director, Rural Schools Association of New York State
No small amount of credit for the resiliency of New York’s rural school districts during the pandemic can be traced back to Rural Schools Association of New York State Executive Director David Little. Little’s previous government experience, including as government relations chief at the state school boards association, legal counsel to the state Legislature, a county legislator and school board member, have helped him guide the association through these unprecedented times.
32. Naftuli Moster
Executive Director, YAFFED
Naftuli Moster, the founder of Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, is continuing his yearslong effort advocating for basic instruction of such secular subjects as English, math, history and science at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in New York. He pressured New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to belatedly release a city report assessing city yeshivas, and the state Education Department is now revisiting how to define “substantially equivalent” instruction at these and other private schools.
33. David Zwiebel
Executive Vice President, Agudath Israel of America
With yeshivas at the center of disputes over classroom closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last spring named Agudath Israel’s Rabbi David Zweibel to his education advisory council on reopening. Zwiebel is also a leader of Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, which defends the ultra-Orthodox schools against long-simmering complaints about a lack of secular educational instruction.
34. Robert Biggerstaff
Executive Director, New York State Association of Small City School Districts
While the “Big 5” school districts in New York’s largest cities have plenty of clout in Albany, Robert Biggerstaff has devoted years of work ensuring that dozens of districts in smaller cities have a seat at the table too. After Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month touted a 43% increase in education funding during his tenure, the attorney countered that the claim “neglects to mention $2.5 billion taken away just before and doesn’t give true picture.”
35. Geoffrey Canada & Kwame Owusu-Kesse
President; CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone
As the leaders of Harlem Children’s Zone, an internationally recognized nonprofit for children and families living in Harlem, President Geoffrey Canada and CEO Kwame Owusu-Kesse are instrumental in assuring that the organization can offer free support to thousands of families with parenting workshops, a preschool program, three charter schools and various child-oriented health programs. Expanding their organization’s system of programs to nearly 100 blocks of Harlem, the duo is continually seeking to reach more children.
36. David Bloomfield
Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy, Brooklyn College
When trying to make sense of New York’s latest education policy fight or sort through confusing education statistics, one of the most knowledgeable experts to provide some clarity is David Bloomfield. In recent weeks the veteran Brooklyn College professor, who also teaches at the CUNY Graduate Center, has weighed in on the need to vaccinate more teachers for COVID-19, fuzzy numbers showing increased college readiness in New York City despite the pandemic, and how to address mayoral control.
37. Mark Lauria
Executive Director, New York State Association of Independent Schools
Representing some 200 independent schools, both secular and religious, as well as approximately 83,000 students, it’s not a stretch to call New York State Association of Independent Schools Executive Director Mark Lauria a champion of nonpublic schools. He doesn’t take his role lightly, as evidenced by his organization’s 2019 lawsuit against the state Education Department to halt efforts to expand oversight of nonpublic schools.
38. Dan Weisberg
As CEO of the reform-oriented education advocacy group TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) for nearly six years, Dan Weisberg has led the organization’s operations, initiatives and efforts that have resulted in millions of students’ educational experiences being improved. Prior to his years spent rising through the ranks at TNTP, Weisberg served as chief executive of labor policy and implementation for the New York City Department of Education.
39. Shael Polakow-Suransky
President, Bank Street College of Education
South Africa native Shael Polakow-Suransky has led Bank Street College of Education since 2014 – the school’s first alumnus to do so. The role is just the latest leadership position for Polakow-Suransky, who founded Bronx International High School in 2001. Previously, he served as deputy chancellor at the city Department of Education in the Bloomberg administration, and has been a member of the board of PENCIL, a nonprofit that fosters partnerships between public schools and businesses, since 2015.
40. Thomas K. Lee
Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer, New York State Teachers’ Retirement System
Thomas K. Lee has the economic fate of more than 430,000 people in his hands. Lee is responsible for the performance of the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System – one of the nation’s 10 biggest public pension funds, with roughly $120 billion in assets under his management.
41. Lorraine Grillo
President and CEO, New York City School Construction Authority
Under Lorraine Grillo’s leadership, the New York City School Construction Authority expects to have air conditioning installed in every New York City public school classroom by the end of 2021 – a year ahead of schedule. The authority also stuck to its plan to remove temporary classroom structures from the five boroughs and kicked off a diversity program to encourage working with women- and minority-owned businesses: Since 2010, it has committed $4.2 billion in prime contracts and $3 billion in sub-contracts to qualifying businesses.
42. Vartan Gregorian
President, Carnegie Corporation of New York
Vartan Gregorian has been at the helm of the Carnegie Corporation of New York since 1997. During his tenure at the legendary grant-making institution, he has led a renewed focus on targeted giving to K-12 and higher education initiatives. In addition to his role at the Carnegie Corporation, Gregorian serves on several boards, including the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. Highlights from his extensive background in education include serving as president of Brown University.
43. Kevin Casey
Executive Director, School Administrators Association of New York State
A vocal representative and advocate for the more than 8,000 school administrators, including principals, vice principals, directors, and public school communities, Kevin Casey currently oversees services and operations at the School Administrators Association of New York State. Like the members of his organization on a daily basis, Casey faces the challenge of how to engineer a safe return to in-person learning.
44. Amy Zimmer
Bureau Chief, Chalkbeat New York
The must-read source for what’s happening in education policy and politics in New York is Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news website with hubs in New York City and several other major U.S. cities. For a little over a year, veteran New York journalist Amy Zimmer has served as the local bureau chief, overseeing the site’s editorial direction and penning pieces on students with disabilities, hiring more social workers in schools and examining how schools are dealing with COVID-19.
45. Jim Manly & Alicia Johnson
Superintendent; President, KIPP NYC
KIPP, a charter school network whose name is an acronym of Knowledge is Power Program, has become a power player since its first classroom was opened in the South Bronx a quarter century ago. The system is run by Jim Manly, who was previously with Success Academy Charter Schools, and Alicia Johnson, a KIPP veteran who has been adapting to the coronavirus pandemic. Manly and Johnson announced new anti-racism efforts last summer.
46. Tom Liam Lynch
Director of Education Policy, Center for New York City Affairs at The New School; Editor-in-Chief, InsideSchools
A former educational technology professor, English teacher, and school district official for the New York City Department of Education, Tom Liam Lynch helped launch the iLearnNYC online learning program in more than 100 schools. He also launched WeTeachNYC, a $6.8 million digital resource library for tens of thousands of teachers. His expertise is in educational tech, school reform and K-12 computer science.
47. Robert Carroll
Like many Brooklyn Democrats, Assembly Member Robert Carroll is a progressive who advocates for criminal justice reform, Medicaid and recreational marijuana. But one less high-profile stand he has taken is in support of students with dyslexia, having struggled with the disorder himself. Last year he successfully lobbied the New York City Department of Education to screen students in his district for dyslexia, and is advocating for such screenings to be conducted citywide.
48. Dia Bryant
Interim Executive Director, The Education Trust-New York
In January, The Education Trust-New York’s Ian Rosenblum stepped down to be deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education with the U.S. Department of Education. His interim replacement, Ed Trust-NY veteran Dia Bryant, will contend with the challenges of COVID-19, though she’ll have the strong support of John King, the former U.S. education secretary and past state education commissioner who heads the organization’s national office.
49. Richard Buery, Jr.
President, Achievement First
Last May, Richard Buery took on a top post at Achievement First, a high-performing charter school network with 37 schools in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Buery, who drove the successful rollout of universal prekindergarten in New York City as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives, left City Hall in 2018 and joined KIPP, another charter school network. Buery now works directly with Achievement First’s CEO, Dacia Toll.
50. Mark Dunetz
President, New Visions for Public Schools
As president of New Visions for Public Schools for nearly five years, Mark Dunetz continues to lead the nonprofit on its mission to be “a laboratory of innovation” for tens of thousands of students within the city’s public school system via its charter high school network and teacher prep program. Dunetz, who began his career in education as a high school teacher of English language learning, was the founding principal of Academy for Careers in Television and Film, one of New York City’s best-performing nonselective schools.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly suggested that Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Betty Rosa as interim education commissioner. The post is filled by the state Board of Regents. An earlier version of this post also incorrectly stated that Thomas K. Lee of NYSTRS has a private equity firm. The firm is actually owned by Thomas H. Lee.