School & District Management

D.C. State Chief Makes Quiet Exit

By Sean Cavanagh — September 28, 2010 2 min read
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Kerri L. Briggs’ tenure as state superintendent of education for the District of Columbia was spent largely working in the broad shadow cast by Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

Ms. Briggs’ recent departure from her post was characteristically quiet. News of her resignation came shortly after Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s loss in the city’s Sept. 14 Democratic primary election, which was followed by speculation about the job status of his aggressive, handpicked chancellor, Ms. Rhee.

Employees in the state superintendent’s office learned of Ms. Briggs’ resignation two days after the election, said Beth H. Colleye. Formerly the superintendent’s general counsel, Ms. Colleye been named interim superintendent.

“For the last nine years, I’ve worked at the federal, state, and local level,” Ms. Briggs wrote in an e-mail to her colleagues. “I have loved every minute and continue to be amazed by your commitment to creating better opportunities for children.”

As superintendent, Ms. Briggs—who declined an interview request—was responsible for administering traditionally state-level educational policies for the nation’s capital and overseeing a $402 million annual budget. Her work included managing several federal grants and programs, as well as assessments and academic standards. She also played a major role in crafting the District of Columbia’s successful $75 million application in the federal Race to the Top competition, Mayor Fenty said in a statement.

The office of the state superintendent of education operates like a state-level agency, with its own state board of education that advises the superintendent. It provides assistance to and monitors programs within Washington’s 45,000-student public schools—a system overseen by the mayor, who appoints the chancellor—as well as to schools serving the city’s 28,000 charter school students.

Kerri L. Briggs played a major part in the District of Columbia's win in the Race to the Top contest.

Ms. Briggs was appointed as superintendent a year and a half ago by Mr. Fenty, replacing Deborah A. Gist, who resigned the post to become Rhode Island’s state education commissioner. The District is heavily Democratic, and in that sense, Ms. Briggs’ appointment was unusual, in that she had formerly served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush.

“She could have taken a comfortable job,” Ms. Colleye said. “Instead, she really tried to use her expertise to improve the lives of children, and I respect that very much.”

District of Columbia Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who defeated Mr. Fenty in the primary and is unopposed in the general election, is expected to appoint a full-time replacement for Ms. Briggs after his presumed move into the mayor’s office in January, Ms. Colleye said.

A version of this article appeared in the September 29, 2010 edition of Education Week as D.C. State Chief Makes Quiet Exit

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