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James Cole, Jr. Tapped for No. 2 Slot at Ed. Department

By Alyson Klein — January 28, 2016 2 min read
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James Cole, Jr., the general counsel at the U.S. Department of Education, has been tapped as a senior advisor filling the duties of the deputy secretary of education.

The gig—the No. 2 position at the department—became available when former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan resigned and John B. King Jr., who had essentially been serving as the deputy, was tapped by President Barack Obama to oversee the department.

Cole has a long resume, mostly serving in legal positions. Before coming to the department he was the deputy general counsel at the U.S. Department of Transportation. And before that, he was a corporate lawyer at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, & Katz in New York.

But he’s also an education guy. He was a member of the board of directors of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and a member of the board of Prep for Prep, a New York City-based non-profit that helps students of color attend—and be academically ready for—rigorous boarding and private day schools. Plus, he’s a long-time mentor of high school and college students.

Cole went to high school on Chicago’s South Side and was the first in his family to graduate from college. And like his boss, King, he credits teachers with inspiring him to pursue higher education. More here.

Cole’s background as a legal eagle could prove useful as the department begins to regulate on the Every Student Succeeds Act. The new law puts a bunch of prohibitions on the education secretary, and no one is exactly sure yet how they will play out. The department may have to tread carefully in its efforts to look out for historically disadvantaged groups of students while staying within the bounds of the new law.

Meanwhile, coordination of pre-K-12 programs will shift from the deputy secretary’s office to Emma Vadehra, King’s chief of staff.

“With the tremendous amount of work ahead of us to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, she is the ideal fit for this new and larger role at this critical time, and she will be superb in it,” King wrote in an email sent to department staff Thursday.

And in other personnel news: Jonathan Schorr, who had been filling the role of assistant secretary of communications and outreach, is leaving the department. Matt Lehrich, who has been a senior communications advisor, will be stepping into that role. (If Lehrich’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he was an edu-communications point person at the White House earlier in the Obama administration.)

“Matt has been an invaluable member of the team since joining ED, and we look forward to working with him in this new capacity,” King wrote in Thursday’s email.

Plus, Andrew Jackson, the assistant secretary for management who has worked on operations at the department, will be adding risk management and performance improvement to his portfolio.

Cole and Lehrich aren’t the only key players at the department with an “acting” or “filling the duties of” title. Ann Whalen, another senior advisor, is essentially the assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education. And Amy McIntosh, a principal deputy assistant secretary, is basically working as the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development.

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