Queens native Peter McNally was an elementary school principal and special education supervisor in New York City before joining the New York State Federation of School Administrators, which represents 14,000 principals and supervisors from Buffalo, Yonkers and New York City. As executive director, McNally has lobbied to change the principal and teacher evaluation system;this year he’ll weigh in on the all-important review of state graduation requirements.
The 2020 Education Power 100: 51-100
The 2020 Education Power 100: 51-100
Kim Sweet has made a career out of bringing parents and policymakers together to make New York City a safer, more nurturing place for students with disabilities. She spearheaded special education advocacy work at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and launched the ARISE Coalition to “compel systemic reform to benefit students with disabilities” after joining Advocates for Children of New York in 2007. She’s also sounded the alarm on homeless students and chronic absenteeism.
A former teacher whose own son has intellectual disabilities, Lori Podvesker supports policies that help children with disabilities get the services they need to thrive. In addition to serving as policy chairwoman of the New York City Panel for Educational Policy, Podvesker is director of disability and education policy at the nonprofit INCLUDEnyc, which creates “access to educational, employment and independent living opportunities” for thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities.
A former superintendent and BOCES leader with deep ties to Western New York, Rick Timbs is a master of New York’s complex education funding structure. As executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, which includes more than 400 school districts, Timbs is playing the long game to persuade lawmakers and the governor to get on board with an overhaul of the Foundation Aid formula, a key state aid distribution mechanism for public schools.
Paula White is as well-rounded an education leader as they come. A first-generation immigrant, she taught in Atlanta Public Schools, founded a charter school, led school turnaround efforts at the New Jersey Department of Education and advocated with Democrats for Education Reform. Since joining the teacher advocacy group Educators for Excellence in 2018, her influence has grown in the Empire State as she’s pressed officials to recruit, train and graduate a more diverse teacher workforce.
A former civil rights lawyer, Richard Buery worked closely with Mayor Bill de Blasio to make universal pre-K a success – and at the same time gained a reputation as a peacemaker in the acrimonious relationship between New York City’s charter school sector and City Hall. As CEO of the Children’s Aid Society, he founded a charter school in the South Bronx. At the KIPP Foundation, Buery leads the push to promote college affordability.
Charissa Fernández has helmed the New York chapter of Teach for America since 2013. It’s a difficult time to be in her shoes as the teaching profession struggles with widespread turnover and the Trump administration dismantles the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which counts Teach For America corps members and students as recipients. Still, Fernández is blazing a path forward: She’s led a reengineered teacher hiring process and launched a New York regional training institute.
Deborah Axt and Javier Valdés are seasoned community organizers who’ve successfully fought for the rights of immigrants, tenants and wage workers. On the education front, they lead parents and youth leaders in efforts to expand restorative justice practices, legal and health services, and college application guidance in New York City schools. Axt and Valdés are also overseeing the opening of the group’s new headquarters in Queens this year, which boasts multiple classrooms.
When it comes to protecting the interests of Jewish day schools and other nonpublic education institutions, Maury Litwack is a force to be reckoned with in the corridors of power. An education policy expert and lobbyist, Litwack has grown the Teach Coalition into a multi-state network and notched legislative wins in New York, including bolstering private school security and securing state aid for STEM instruction in New York City’s religious schools.
Michael Rebell has spent decades trying education equity cases – he’s perhaps best-known for challenging New York’s education finance system in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He founded the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University’s Teachers College and currently represents student plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that argues the state of Rhode Island has failed to provide sufficient civics education. Rebell has authored or co-authored five books and dozens of articles.
Under Brigid Ahern’s leadership since 2018, Turnaround for Children has delved deeper in its work to equip educators with science-based tools to minimize the effects of trauma and stress on student learning and development. The nonprofit has long partnered with New York City schools and expanded its reach last year to Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Bay area, Tulsa and Chicago. Previously, Ahern worked at Uncommon Schools and the city Department of Education.
Natasha Trivers joined Democracy Prep in 2011 as an assistant principal and worked her way up to the top, becoming CEO of the multi-state charter school network in 2019. She oversees its concentration of schools in New York City and those in New Jersey, Nevada, Texas and Louisiana. Trivers’ tenure has produced gains in Regents exam scores and higher graduation rates. At the same time, she’s committed to improving educational opportunities in communities of color.
Brett Peiser taught in New York City public schools and founded Boston Collegiate Charter School before joining Uncommon Schools, where he became CEO in 2012. The network of 54 Northeast charter schools is recognized for its work “helping students achieve significant academic gains and college readiness.” Peiser recently joined forces with other charter leaders to publicly urge Democratic presidential candidates to rethink policy proposals viewed as “hostile to charters,” in a Daily News op-ed.
A Teach for America alum who also taught in Atlanta Public Schools, Kevin Anderle has spent the past 12 years at the Achievement First charter network. As regional superintendent for 23 Brooklyn schools, he is responsible for coaching high school principals, managing the high school academy and steering the network’s “AP for All” course enrollment strategy. Of late, Anderle and his bosses are busy navigating a Brooklyn school closure due to low enrollment.
Yomika Bennett was hired in 2019 to lead the nonprofit New York Charter Schools Association amid the group’s rebranding. As executive director, Bennett, an established Albany insider, represents 300 charter schools statewide in various policy debates. Her prior experience as a budget analyst in the Assembly, secretary of transportation under Gov. Andrew Cuomo and deputy commissioner at the DMV give her an edge as she forges this new chapter.
James Kemple, a former high school math teacher, and Cheri Fancsali, a former early childhood and special education teacher, are the leaders of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools. Their scholarly team, housed at New York University, produces authoritative evaluations on everything from high school choice, college and career preparation to after-school programs and school reform initiatives. In 2019 their research tackled student homelessness and the impact of aggressive policing on academic outcomes.
Anita Gundanna and Vanessa Leung both bring impressive advocacy and education resumes to the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. As co-executive directors since 2017, Gundanna and Leung – who also sits on the Panel for Educational Policy – have prioritized a campaign to overhaul the city’s specialized high school admissions test. They prefer an admissions process that weighs multiple factors, arguing the status quo furthers segregation and inequity in public schools, per a 2018 report.
A renowned expert on racial justice and equity, Maya Wiley has litigated, lobbied and developed programs to transform structural racism in the United States and South Africa. She currently teaches at The New School and in the past worked closely with Mayor Bill de Blasio as a legal adviser. Currently, as a mayoral appointee to the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group, Wiley is fundamentally shaping efforts to increase school diversity and integration.
An energetic LGBTQ activist and former union organizer, Alan van Capelle became CEO of the well-established Educational Alliance in 2014. The lower Manhattan-based organization delivers multi-generational community services including preschool, kids’ summer camp and after-school programs. Van Capelle, a Long Island native, is also plugged in to City Hall, where he worked as deputy comptroller from 2010 to 2012, and currently serves on the Children’s Cabinet Advisory Committee. He also teaches at New York University.
This Capital Region leadership duo, who are both former school superintendents, help to distribute the resources and support offered by Boards of Cooperative Educational Services. Dragone builds workforce development partnerships with universities and businesses and recently helped secure a $5 million state Regional Economic Development Council grant to build a new career training center. Murphy, who recently turned down an offer to become deputy state education commissioner, has weighed in on graduation requirements and rural school needs.
The Master Teacher Program run by Josephine Salvador is the secret sauce that helps teachers statewide be more effective and fulfilled in their jobs. Since 2013, Salvador has been the low-profile, high-impact leader of the program backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, overseeing its growth to include more than 1,200 K-12 STEM teachers and helping deliver high-quality training. She’s held past school supervisory roles and leadership positions in state and national educational organizations.
Marielys Divanne brings years of education reform cred to her new role overseeing education initiatives at United Way’s New York City chapter – she worked for charter network Democracy Prep Public Schools and the nonprofit Students for Education Reform. From 2014 to 2017, she led United Way’s ReadNYC campaign, achieving literacy gains in Bronx elementary schools. Divanne returned to United Way in 2019 and has again taken up the mantle to promote children’s literacy.
Yonkers-based educator Jamaal Bowman made a name for himself as the “founding principal of a well-regarded middle school in the Bronx,” as Chalkbeat put it. He’s now wagering that his 20-year education career will help him unseat Rep. Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th Congressional District. A vocal supporter of the opt-out movement and restorative discipline practices, Bowman has nabbed endorsements from Diane Ravitch and political action committees that backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018.
David Banks has achieved extraordinary success in educating young men of color since he established the Eagle Academy schools network 16 years ago in the South Bronx. The network now serves young men from neighborhoods in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, with the highest prison incarceration rates. Banks and his team have seen student graduation rates that are significantly higher than the national average for boys of color.
Jamie Phillips is a longtime leader among school business officials and works as assistant superintendent for business and support services in the Lancaster Central School District. An active member of the Association of School Business Officials’ western chapter, she was honored as the 2017 Business Official of the Year for Western New York. This fall, she steps into a bigger role as president of the statewide association, representing more than 2,500 school finance pros.
Natasha Capers is a champion for New York City’s black, brown and immigrant youth – and she gets things done. She got involved with Coalition for Educational Justice when her children’s school was slated for closure; later, she stepped up to lead the group. She’s been instrumental in boosting funding to school science labs, strengthening middle school academic outcomes and, more recently, pushing the Department of Education to adopt a more inclusive and culturally responsive curriculum.
Carol Burris is a nationally recognized school principal who retired from South Side High School in Rockville Centre, Long Island, in 2015to fully dedicate her energy to reversing New York’s high-stakes testing and the linkage of teacher evaluations to student test scores.Since then, her efforts as executive director of the Network for Public Education Foundation – the brainchild of education historian Diane Ravitch – have frequently succeeded.
Larry Donovan was hired to lead The Speyer Legacy School in July 2019. Previously, at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, he grew enrollment, refined the admissions process, and started “affinity groups” for students and parents of color. He takes the helm of Speyer, a small independent school for gifted students in midtown Manhattan, amid a contentious debate over New York City’s public school gifted and talented program – and whether it should exist at all.
Thomas Rogers was hired as the superintendent of Syosset Central School District in 2014. The suburban Nassau County district has long been well-regarded in national and state rankings, and under Rogers’ tenure, students have continued to outpace their peers statewide on Regents exams and graduation rates. Rogers was trained at Teachers College, Columbia University, and he honed his skills at the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Best known as the co-founder of test-prep giant The Princeton Review, John Katzman is an entrepreneur with established education credibility – and a track record of well-funded startups. His latest venture, The Noodle Companies, encompasses multiple enterprises, including a tool for K-12 districts to manage the procurement process, a tutoring service and an online program manager for university degree programs. Katzman also serves on the board of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
Joyce Szuflita is the cure for what ails thousands of overwhelmed Brooklyn parents seeking the right school for their kids amid New York City’s arcane school admissions maze. Szuflita opened NYC School Help, a wildly successful consulting business, after her own school search process for her two now-adult daughters left her with encyclopedic knowledge of the borough’s schools – and she realized there was a huge market to be tapped.
Daniel Ramot, co-founder of ride-hailing service Via, isn’t the first person who comes to mind when sorting New York’s education influencers, but he’s in a unique position to make his mark on New York City’s school system. Last summer the Department of Education announced a reported $36 million, five-year partnership with Via to create an automated school bus routing, tracking and communication platform that would involve 9,000 bus routes for 150,000 students.
The New York City Department of Education inked a $70 million deal with Apple in 2019, making the tech giant the highest-paid education technology provider of the year, citywide and statewide, based on our review of public records. Robert Frelow joined Apple as the sales lead for the city Department of Education in April, and he’ll be instrumental in securing such deals in the future. He previously sold hardware and software at IBM, Dell and HP.
No. 2 on the list of top ed-tech contractors is CDW Government, a division of CDW that specializes in selling K-12 schools, universities and other government entities everything from Chromebooks to IT infrastructure. Led by Christine Leahy, who was chief revenue officer of CDW before rising to CEO last year, the company had a $24 million contract with the New York City Department of Education in 2019 for audio/video equipment.
Shawn Bay runs eScholar, an “education data solutions” company he founded in 1997 that provides data warehousing, analytics and other tools used by the federal government, states and school districts such as Syracuse City Schools to promote student-personalized learning. The Westchester-based company had a $14.8 million contract with the state Education Department to license a warehouse system and data model for a student information repository system in 2019.
New York’s fourth-largest education technology contractor is Verizon Business Network Services, which had a $12.9 million contract with the New York City Department of Education, as of 2019, to provide data and telecommunications services. As region vice president of public policy for Verizon, Anthony Lewis oversees the company’s public policy initiatives in New York – including major contracts with local agencies.
Another education technology contractor that pulls in substantial dollars for education services is SHI International Corp., a New Jersey-based company run by billionaire Korean American businesswoman Thai Lee, who founded it a couple of decades ago with her then-husband. The New York City Department of Education has a $9.3 million contract with SHI for wireless infrastructure and access management services – both essential elements if schools are to deliver digitally driven instruction.
Lisa Gifford is reprising her CEO role at Alliance Enterprises, a national provider of vocational rehabilitation software and managed services that works with 24 tribal nations and 40 state agencies – including the state Education Department. A 37-year veteran of the company, Gifford calls the shots on contracts like the five-year, $8.8 million deal signed with state education officials in January for consulting help on a vocational rehabilitation case management system.
Gladys Cruz began her career as a teacher in Puerto Rico, served as director of curriculum services for the state Education Department and landed at Questar III BOCES in 1998. Cruz, who has 23 school districts under her purview and oversees programs delivered statewide, last year joined BOCES leaders to advise state officials on their review of high school graduation requirements. She strongly supports changes that account for New York’s diverse student population.
A former high school English teacher, Richard Robinson has spent the majority of his career at the helm of Scholastic, the multinational publishing company and popular provider of pre-K-12 instructional materials. As president since 1974 and CEO since 1975, Robinson has overseen enormous growth; annual revenue hit $1.65 billion in 2019. In the past few years, he’s promoted an expansion at the education division, providing core literacy curriculum to school districts.
A self-described “K-12 computer science evangelist,” Diane Levitt serves as a bridge between the Cornell Tech graduate campus (launched in 2011 on Roosevelt Island) and New York City’s K-12 computing education ecosystem. She recently led a coaching program that enables more public school teachers to teach computer science, especially to underprivileged students of color, and also convenes leaders to move the field forward at an annual conference, To Code and Beyond.
Robert Pondiscio is a leading speaker and writer on education reform who followed a 20-year journalism career with a pivot into teaching at a struggling South Bronx public school in 2002. At the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank, he churns out insightful commentary on national and local education issues. His 2019 book, “How the Other Half Learns,” was produced during his year embedded in a South Bronx Success Academy Charter School.
Ray Domanico came to the conservative Manhattan Institute in 2018 after serving as director of education research at New York City’s Independent Budget Office during the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations. His thoughtful analysis of the education reform movement, the charter cap (he favors lifting it) and the difficulty of integrating city schools is published widely. Domanico’s experience teaching educational research and policy analysis at Brooklyn College and Baruch College informs his data-driven commentary.
A strategic and results-oriented veteran educator, Gregg Betheil came to the nonprofit Pencil in 2015 after nearly seven years at the New York City Department of Education working with the reform-minded Bloomberg administration. As former chief program officer and now president of Pencil, Betheil has led growth of a career-training program that places students in paid internships; he also established the “Boss for a Day” initiative that exposes hundreds of students to real-world workplace environments.
Aaron Pallas is a speaker, writer, researcher and professor who is chiefly concerned with “strengthen[ing] the capacity of research to enhance educational discourse in the public sphere.” Pallas is frequently sought out for his nuanced, data-informed commentary on New York City and state education debates, including the gifted and talented program and the Renewal schools initiative.He recently co-authored a book, “Convergent Teaching: Tools to Spark Deeper Learning in College,” with colleague Anna Neumann.
Matt Gonzales has been tackling New York’s segregated schools from a multipronged front as educator, advocate and policy analyst. He is the director of the Integration and Innovation Initiative at the New York University Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. He advocates for policies that support school integration and, at the state level, he has worked with education officials to design a grant program for district integration plans.
A seasoned school superintendent who started his career as a social worker in the New York City Department of Education, Michael Kohlhagen now leads a nonprofit serving 146,000 students in more than 300 districts and charter schools. CEI offers enrichment programs for at-risk students and “capacity building” for educators and parents to help improve school climate, student achievement and engagement. Under Kohlhagen’s leadership, in 2018 the organization won a federal arts education development grant.
Saskia Traill started as a policy director at ExpandED Schools in 2009 and spent a decade climbing the ladder before becoming CEO in September 2019. She leads policy and research efforts at the New York City organization that is dedicated to “closing the learning gap by increasing access to enriched education experience.” ExpandED offers a full slate of in-school and afterschool enrichment programs, and advocates for city, state and federal policy.
Scott Crowder is CEO of Educational Vistas Inc., a for-profit company based in Schenectady that provides software, data analysis and test-scoring services to hundreds of districts upstate and downstate, as well as charter schools. Its clients include the New York Charter Schools Association and multiple Boards of Cooperative Educational Services. A 30-year veteran in the software industry, Crowder is knowledgeable about everything from programming to design to data management.
Nancy Gutiérrez has had leadership successes on both coasts. The native of East San Jose, California, started her career as a teacher and founding principal of a high-performing middle school in her own community. She joined the NYC Leadership Academy in 2014 and became president and CEO in 2018. In the past six years, she’s led the expansion of the organization’s signature CEO-style principal training bootcamp statewide and beyond.
Correction: An earlier version of this list incorrectly stated Matt Gonzales’ title and organization. Brett Peiser worked at Uncommon Schools before becoming CEO.