Inside baseball

Reshuffling among DOE operations execs as top deputy departs

Sharon Greenberger
Sharon Greenberger

The city Department of Education is losing its top operations official and gaining a chief information officer in the latest spate of leadership changes announced today.

In keeping with a hiring freeze that Mayor Bloomberg has imposed on all city agencies, the department is filling all of the open positions with people who are already on its payroll.

Sharon Greenberger, who became the DOE’s chief operating officer in 2010 after heading the School Construction Authority for four years, is leaving to become a senior vice president at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She’s being replaced by the department’s chief financial officer, Veronica Conforme, who has worked at the DOE since 2003, and another DOE official is moving up to fill Conforme’s role.

Greenberger is the first top deputy to resign since Dennis Walcott became chancellor six months ago. Several top officials, including Conforme’s predecessor in the department’s financial operations, left during the tumultuous months between ex-Chancellor Joel Klein’s resignation last November and the resignation of his successor, Cathie Black, in April.

The department also announced that it has filled the chief information officer position that had been open since March. That’s when Ted Brodheim, the previous CIO, left and Greenberger launched a comprehensive review of the department’s technology department — shortly before news began to break about corruption among DOE technology contractors.

The CIO position had been advertised externally, but it went to Kemi Akinsanya-Rose, who helped lead the technology review after managing the city’s Race to the Top funds and other “strategic initiatives” at the DOE. She is currently participating in the Broad Foundation’s Executive Residency in Urban Education.

The department’s press release outlining the leadership changes is below.

CHANCELLOR WALCOTT ANNOUNCES THE DEPARTURE OF CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER SHARON GREENBERGER; VERONICA CONFORME, DOE’S CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, WILL ASSUME THE ROLE OF CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER

Michael Tragale, Deputy Chief Financial Officer, named CFO; Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, Chief Deputy Counsel, will become Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and assume additional responsibilities; Kemi Akinsanya appointed Chief Information Officer

Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott today announced the departure of Sharon Greenberger, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Department of Education, who is leaving to become Senior Vice President, Facilities Development and Engineering at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Veronica Conforme, who joined the Department of Education in 2003 and has served as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) since December 2010, will take over as COO effective November 1st. Michael Tragale, who is currently the Deputy Chief Financial Officer, will be promoted to CFO.

“Sharon Greenberger has been a tremendous asset to the Department of Education, and before that, a phenomenal leader of the School Construction Authority,” said Chancellor Walcott. “It has truly been a pleasure to work side by side with Sharon over the past few years, and especially over the last six months that I have been Chancellor. I have valued and will miss her good counsel, her strong strategic vision, and her ability to build partnerships with so many supporters of our schools in the greater City community. Our loss is truly NewYork Presbyterian’s gain, and we wish Sharon the best of luck as she begins this new chapter.”

Sharon Greenberger first joined the Bloomberg Administration in 2002. She served as Chief of Staff for then-Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding Dan Doctoroff from 2002- 2005. She then briefly left the Administration to become Vice President of Campus Planning and Real Estate for New York University. Ms. Greenberger returned to the Administration in 2006, when she was appointed President and CEO of the New York City School Construction Authority. She served in that role until 2010, when then Chancellor Joel Klein appointed her COO of the Department of Education.

“Working with the Mayor and the Chancellor to help build and run our 1,700 schools has been the most extraordinary and rewarding experience,” said Ms. Greenberger. “I am grateful for all of the friends I have made along the way, and I have the deepest respect for our educators who work tirelessly to help our 1.1 million children succeed. I am sad to leave the Bloomberg Administration, but excited to take the skills I have acquired here and join NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital to help families in an entirely different, but equally important way.”

Prior to serving as CFO, Veronica Conforme was the Deputy Chief Schools Officer for Operations in the Division of School Support and Instruction where she oversaw the day to day operational support to the district’s 1,700 schools and managed over 1,100 employees. She has held several other key positions since she first joined the Department, including serving as Chief Operating Officer for Empowerment Schools and the Deputy Director for Finance and Administration. In these roles, she oversaw the non-academic functions of the original 332 empowerment schools, led the restructuring of the 32 school districts, and managed business operations for Region 8. Prior to joining the DOE, Veronica was director of human resources at Columbia University Medical Center and, earlier in her career, held key financial roles in various non-profits.

Ms. Conforme was raised in the Bronx where she attended PS 114 and JHS 166 Roberto Clemente. She graduated from Murry Bergtraum High School in lower Manhattan. She holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Spanish Literature from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Columbia University.

“Veronica’s deep knowledge of both the financial infrastructure of the Department and our schools’ operational needs make her the ideal person to serve as our new Chief Operating Officer,” said Chancellor Walcott. “Over the past several years, she has proven herself to be a dedicated and respected leader within our organization. I am grateful that she has accepted this new challenge and confident that working together, we will continue to build on the progress we have made for our students.”

Ms. Conforme said, “I want to thank Chancellor Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg for this opportunity to serve New York City’s 1.1 million public school students. I grew up in the Bronx and am a proud graduate of New York City’s public schools, so I have a deep affection and respect for our education system. The Chancellor and I have a shared goal of ensuring that every child across this City has access to a high quality school, and I look forward to working with him in this new capacity.”

Chancellor Walcott also announced that Michael Tragale will succeed Ms. Conforme as Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Tragale was appointed Deputy CFO in December 2010 after serving as Deputy Chief Operating Officer in the Division of School Support and Instruction. Mr. Tragale is a 25 year veteran of the Department of Education with expertise in financial management and operations after serving in a range of positions including in the Central Budget Office, Community School District Financial Offices, and the Regional Operating Center. Mr. Tragale received his Bachelor’s degree from Fordham University.

In addition, Chancellor Walcott announced that Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, the Chief Deputy Counsel and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor for Compliance Strategies, will assume the role of Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, working closely with him on a daily basis to help manage interagency coordination, the Office of Public Affairs, and strategic initiatives supported by the office of Family Action and Community Engagement. Ms. Jackson-Chase had previously been responsible for oversight of the general practice, commercial, disciplinary and special education legal units as well as the offices of special investigations and compliance services. A search for her replacement is underway.

Chancellor Walcott also announced the appointment of Kemi Akinsanya-Rose as Chief Information Officer (CIO), a position that has been vacant since Ted Brodheim’s departure from the DOE in March 2011. In her role as CIO, Ms. Akinsanya-Rose will be responsible for the planning and direction of major technology initiatives and ensuring their alignment with the Department’s overall goal of supporting and advancing student achievement.

Ms. Akinsanya most recently served as Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives in the office of the Chief Operating Officer, where she was responsible for implementation of the DOE’s central office performance management initiatives, conducting operational reviews, and managing the $269 million Race to the Top grant. She is currently completing her Executive Residency in Urban Education through the Eli Broad Foundation. Before joining the DOE, Ms. Akinsanya spent 14 years at American Express where she held various roles including leading a national customer service call center and launching an interactive online sales application. Ms. Akinsanya-Rose earned her Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and has a Master’s in Business Administration from the Wharton School of Business.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede