Education Department Is Losing Two High-Ranking Officials

By Michelle R. Davis — July 25, 2006 3 min read

The leader of a recently created Department of Education office that oversees policy development is stepping down, department officials announced last week.

The departure of Thomas W. Luce III, the assistant secretary for the office of planning, evaluation, and policy development, will follow that of another assistant secretary, Kevin F. Sullivan, who is starting a new job as White House communications director. Mr. Sullivan led the office of communications and outreach.

Mr. Luce, 66, will leave his post at the end of September, moving back to his home state of Texas, department officials said.

Both men were the first to lead their offices, which were formed during a reorganization by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings early last year, soon after she left a top White House job to take charge of the department. At the time, department officials said the new planning office was needed to help improve technology and streamline policy, while the establishment of the new communications office was prompted by a series of public relations scandals at the Education Department. (“Department’s PR Activities Scrutinized,” Jan. 19, 2005.)

Department officials said Ms. Spellings plans to replace Mr. Sullivan, 47, but had not yet discussed Mr. Luce’s position.

But the department has hired a new press secretary, Katherine McLane, for a position left open since March, when spokeswoman Susan Aspey left to work for the Department of Homeland Security. Ms. McLane, 34, who started at the Education Department earlier this month, came from California, where she was part of the communications team for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

Leaving Holes

Mr. Luce, who has served as assistant secretary for the office of planning, evaluation, and policy development for more than a year, is a well-connected GOP campaign donor. Before coming to the department, he founded the Austin, Texas-based nonprofit organization Just for the Kids, now sponsored by the National Center for Education Accountability, also in Austin, which uses state accountability data to examine and improve student performance. He is moving to Dallas to be near his family, said Ms. McLane, and will “remain a close adviser to Ms. Spellings.”

Mr. Sullivan, a former NBC television executive and spokesman for the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, is now in charge of strategic communications and long-range-message planning for President Bush.

Mr. Sullivan said in an interview that he will be “helping to tell the story of the president’s agenda and priorities.” Though education won’t be the only item on his list of issues, he said that for President Bush it remains “a priority among domestic issues.” And, he said, he’s pretty sure Secretary Spellings will call often to make sure it stays on the front burner.

The departure of two such high-powered figures in the department—particularly Mr. Luce, who was one of Ms. Spellings’ closest counselors—is significant, said Andrew J. Rotherham, a co-founder and the director of Education Sector, a Washington think tank, and a former education aide to President Clinton.

“These are holes they need to fill quickly,” Mr. Rotherham said. To fill the positions with acting or other temporary leaders would be a mistake, he said.

“At the end of the day, when you tally up the balance ledger on the Bush administration, education is the only issue where they can seriously lay claim to having promoted a bipartisan reform, generally regarded as a step forward,” he said. With more than two years left in Mr. Bush’s second term, there’s “still a great deal of work to do,” Mr. Rotherham said.

However, Ms. McLane, the new press secretary, will also be working to make sure Ms. Spellings’ message on education gets out.

“Coming from a family of educators, I believe that the mission of the president and the secretary in bringing every child up to grade level by 2014 through No Child Left Behind is a very profound and righteous one, and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Ms. McLane, whose parents are teachers, and who, like her boss, grew up in Texas.

A version of this article appeared in the July 26, 2006 edition of Education Week as Education Department Is Losing Two High-Ranking Officials


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