RICHMOND — Tennessee’s Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons was appointed superintendent of public instruction in Virginia by Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday, following the resignation of former superintendent Jillian Balow earlier this month.
Coons is expected to start on April 17, according to the Virginia Department of Education, after leading Tennessee’s revisions for English Language Arts instruction Coons’ appointment comes as Virginia has reported low student proficiency ratings in math and reading.
“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 Guidera said in a written 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 will join the Department of Education as it continues navigating several issues since the Youngkin administration took control in January 2021. In his earliest days in office, the governor prohibited the use of “inherently divisive concepts,” including the academic study framework Critical Race Theory, in K-12 education and ordered the state to raise academic standards. Balow subsequently ended virtually all equity initiatives launched by the department under former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
The department is also handling the ongoing review of Virginia’s history and social science standards, which will set Virginia’s expectations for K-12 student learning in those areas. Other issues the department is handling include the revisions to transgender student policies that would require schools to notify parents of any change in a student’s gender pronouns, an aid calculation tool error that left school divisions short $201 million in state funding and failures to support students with disabilities.
Members of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and Virginia Education Association said previously that they would like Balow’s replacement to have a “strong Virginia educational experience” and a “mix of leadership knowledge, policy expertise, deep background in our state K-12 funding formula, and real-world classroom experience.”
Coons will be joined by Goochland County Superintendent Jeremy Raley as the Virginia Department of Education’s new chief of staff. Guidera said the two bring decades of experience in education systems “centered on high expectations and multiple pathways for every student, strong knowledge and experience in the commonwealth, and proven leadership.”
Coons previously worked as an executive officer of division priority schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools and executive director of instructional leadership at the Tennessee Department of Education, according to the Department of Education.
“I am honored that Governor Youngkin has selected me to serve as Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction in collaboration with Secretary Guidera,” Coons said in a statement. “The governor has set a bold academic agenda that puts students first and empowers families to help set priorities for their children. We have an opportunity in Virginia to be the country’s best state for education, and we’ll achieve that vision through partnerships with families, educators and school division leaders.”
Youngkin tweeted a statement about the appointments Wednesday morning:
Marine veteran appointed to Virginia’s Board of Education
Dale Sturdifen was appointed Wednesday to serve on Virginia’s Board of Education after two unsuccessful runs for state Senate and Congress last year. The board welcomed him during a break between executive sessions Wednesday morning.
Sturdifen’s former roles include chair of the Mecklenburg County School Board and former special agent with the Virginia State Police; he is also a retired United States Marine Corps veteran, according to the governor’s office. He is currently field director for Republican Congressman Bob Good.
Sturdifen replaces Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s appointee, Suparna Dutta, recently blocked from serving her four-year term by Senate Democrats after criticizing progressive education policies that she believes overemphasize the importance of race.
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