Susan K. Sclafani, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s vocational education program, who won the respect of many career-oriented school officials despite pressing them to improve their academic programs, announced her resignation Aug. 24.
In an e-mail message to members of her staff, Ms. Sclafani, 60, said her resignation would take effect Sept. 6. While she declined to specify her future plans, the administrator suggested she would focus on making academic improvements at the secondary level.
“It is time for me to serve the nation in a different capacity,” Ms. Sclafani wrote to her co-workers. “I hope to assist states and districts as they implement the reforms of the No Child Left Behind Act, especially mathematics and science as well as high school redesign.”
Department officials named Beto Gonzalez, who was hired as a top deputy to Ms. Sclafani earlier this month, to take over her position on an interim basis until the White House nominates a permanent successor for confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Mr. Gonzalez, a former college dean, most recently served as a public affairs official in the U.S. Department of Labor.
In her position, Ms. Sclafani oversaw a $1.3 billion federal program that channels money to a broad range of career-oriented high school initiatives. That federal commitment accounts for about 10 percent of the money spent on vocational education nationwide, when state and local sources are taken into account.
Ms. Sclafani has served at a time when the Bush administration was growing increasingly critical of vocational education. President Bush’s proposed fiscal 2006 budget seeks to eliminate federal funding in that area entirely, a move that outraged many advocates in the vocational community.
Ms. Sclafani, despite her position as a political appointee, was known for speaking favorably of vocational education and its potential—when implemented effectively—to help struggling students. That stance, which drew praise from members of the career and technical school community, also seemed at times to put her at odds with the administration’s outlook, some observers said. (“Tough Message, Diplomatic Messenger,” Aug. 10, 2005.)
There has long been speculation that Ms. Sclafani might leave the department, though she has continued to be an active voice for the administration on a broad range of K-12 issues, from the importance of math and science education to the implementation of the No Child Left Behind law.
Before joining the Education Department, Ms. Sclafani was a longtime top administrator in the 210,000-student Houston school system. In 2001, she moved to Washington and joined the Department of Education when Houston’s then-superintendent, Rod Paige, was named secretary of education. She served as a special counselor to Mr. Paige before taking over the vocational education post in 2003.
Ms. Sclafani was one of the few top administrators from Mr. Paige’s tenure as secretary to remain at the agency since his departure at the end of President Bush’s first term. In a statement issued Aug. 24, Secretary Spellings thanked Ms. Sclafani for her service “and her commitment to No Child Left Behind.”