Team Profiles: A Look at the Top Officials Charged With Carrying Out Bush Ed. Plan

September 19, 2001 18 min read
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Elementary and Secondary Education

Susan B. Neuman has firsthand experience with federal programs: She was a Title I teacher in Richmond, Calif., years ago. But that’s not how she made a name for herself. Rather, Ms. Neuman, 54, the new assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, is nationally known as a researcher on early-childhood and literacy education.

She may well have the toughest job at the Department of Education, assuming Congress completes work this fall on legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Her office will take the lead in implementing the retooled ESEA, which is expected to impose a whole new set of requirements on states and districts to increase testing and improve student achievement.

Susan B. Neuman

To join the department, Ms. Neuman left her post as an education professor and director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a position she had held for less than a year before President Bush came calling. Ms. Neuman taught earlier at several other universities, including Temple University in Philadelphia and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. She has written seven books and many articles.

Her recent research includes a study showing that children in poor neighborhoods have much less access to books, magazines, and newspapers than do middle-class children.

Before earning her doctorate at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., Ms. Neuman was an elementary school teacher and a reading specialist.

“I’ve been a teacher, and I always approach what I’m doing with the teacher in mind,” she said.

Ms. Neuman’s selection may be explained in part by President Bush’s own emphasis on the importance of reading instruction, which he stressed as governor of Texas and now in his congressional agenda. He has proposed a significant increase in federal spending on reading, with priority given to “scientifically based” reading instruction. The administration highlights reading as the key to closing disparities in achievement between minority and white students.

Asked what she sees as her mission, Ms. Neuman replied: “It’s very focused. I want to close the achievement gap.”

She says she wants her office to be viewed as a place to help states and districts reach that goal.

“We need to provide in this office a spirit of help,” she said, “where we are not seen as the compliance monitors, but as the technical assistants.”

—Erik W. Robelen

Educational Research and Improvement

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the new assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, didn’t begin his academic career in either education or in research. As a young man growing up in the small-town environs of Washington, N.C., he had pegged music for his career choice.

But switching his undergraduate major at East Carolina University from music to psychology proved to be a smart decision for Mr. Whitehurst, the son of a firefighter and a homemaker. He went on to become a national expert on how young children—especially poor children—learn to read.

Now, with several books, dozens of scholarly articles, and two journal editorships under his belt, Mr. Whitehurst has acquired the credentials for his new job as the Department of Education’s research chief. And his fellow researchers consider that a plus.

“Having somebody who is there presumably with a mandate to do good research and a taste for good research symbolizes to the field that things will change,” said Thomas K. Glennan Jr., who headed a previous incarnation of Mr. Whitehurst’s office and is now a senior adviser for education policy in the Washington office of the RAND Corp.

Mr. Whitehurst, 56, earned his doctorate in child psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He was the lead professor and the chairman of the psychology department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook when the Bush administration tapped him for the research post. Now, Mr. Whitehurst’s wife, Janet E. Fischel, an associate professor of pediatrics at SUNY, will have to carry on the studies the couple once undertook together.

The assistant secretary has bought a second home in the capital, but plans to commute home to Stony Brook on weekends.

Mr. Whitehurst is not a neophyte on federal policy matters. He has advised the federal government on its Head Start and Even Start programs and served on advisory panels for both the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. His own research has been largely bankrolled by the latter.

“I know from personal experience what education can do when it works well,” Mr. Whitehurst said. “I am committed to using research to see that it works well for all children.”

—Debra Viadero

Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

For inspiration during his years as a special education administrator, Robert Pasternack would recall the story his mother told him of the birth of his older brother, who has Down’s syndrome.

His brother was born with an intestinal obstruction and faced death by starvation if it wasn’t repaired. A doctor advised his mother that it was not worth fixing the obstruction, saying that because of the boy’s disability, “his life won’t amount to anything anyway,” Mr. Pasternack recalls his mother telling him.

Mr. Pasternack, 53, confirmed by the Senate in July as the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, says that with his brother’s life story in mind, he wants to give students with disabilities the best tool possible to amount to something: a good education.

“Since my brother, who is 58, was a child, we’ve come a long way as a society in integrating people with disabilities into the fabric of life,” said Mr. Pasternack, who most recently was New Mexico’s state director of special education. “But I know we still have a long way to go.”

In his Education Department job, Mr. Pasternack will direct the enforcement of federal special education laws and regulations. He will also help shape the Bush administration’s priorities for the coming reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main federal special education law.

Several colleagues in New Mexico described him as a good listener, who never turned away a parent who wanted to tell him about a problem. Accordingly, when asked to outline his own priorities for the IDEA process, Mr. Pasternack demurred, saying he prefers to listen first to advice gathered at a series of public meetings.

“I believe God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason,” he said. “We should do twice as much listening as talking.”

While he was New Mexico’s special education chief, a job he assumed in 1998, the state crafted an alternative assessment for students with disabilities and helped improve early-intervention services for young children.

One of his goals is to make sure that no student with a disability is left behind in President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” plan, which calls for annual testing of students in grades 3-8.

“Testing is critically important to measure the impact of the instruction,” Mr. Pasternack said. “For too long, we’ve left those kids out. The time has come to make sure we have good assessments.”

—Lisa Fine

Civil Rights

It is tempting to compare the backgrounds of Gerald A. Reynolds, President Bush’s choice to be the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights, and Clarence Thomas, who held that job for just under a year early in the Reagan administration.

Mr. Reynolds, like now-Justice Thomas, is African-American and came from modest beginnings, growing up the son of a New York City police officer and attending public schools in the South Bronx. Like Justice Thomas, who attended the College of the Holy Cross and Yale Law School, Mr. Reynolds received some of his higher education in New England. After attending the City University of New York, he graduated from Boston University Law School.

Both spent time burnishing their credentials as political conservatives who did not fall in step with the traditional agenda of liberal civil rights groups. Both also made career detours to Missouri for corporate or state legal jobs.

Mr. Reynolds, 38, left Washington three years ago to become a lawyer for Kansas City Power & Light. He is now on leave from that job as he awaits formal nomination to the politically sensitive OCR position and then a confirmation hearing, expected sometime this fall before the Senate education committee.

He has already drawn fire from liberal groups for his views against racial preferences. Mr. Reynolds, who has worked for two Washington policy organizations that have questioned affirmative action, has written that government racial preferences discourage rather than promote minority achievement.

Elliot Mincberg, the legal director of People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group that has been critical of President Bush’s appointments, says the office for civil rights needs a leader committed to enforcement, and he’s not sure Mr. Reynolds is the right pick.

“There is a great deal of concern about his nomination,” Mr. Mincberg said. “His views on affirmative action are to the right” of even some policymakers in the Bush administration.

Mr. Reynolds is not giving interviews. But his supporters are responding quickly to try to quash any efforts to derail his nomination.

Cherylyn Harley, a senior fellow at the Center for New Black Leadership, the Washington think tank where Mr. Reynolds served as president and legal counsel in 1997-98, points out that his daughter attends a public charter school and that his wife is the president of the parents’ association. His views on education and affirmative action are not out of the mainstream, she says.

—Mark Walsh

General Counsel

Brian W. Jones has been the only Department of Education nominee to face senatorial reservations in a confirmation hearing so far this year. Perhaps with that in mind, the nominee for department general counsel brought plenty of moral support to the session of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Sept. 6.

The 33-year-old lawyer was surrounded by his family—wife, 17-month-old daughter, parents, grandfather, in-laws, and cousin—as he faced tough questions from Democratic lawmakers about his views on civil rights and affirmative action. The committee last week voted unanimously to recommend approval of his nomination to the full Senate.

He then told the senators of the importance of his family and education. When he was a child, he said, he and his younger brother were expected to study hard and make good grades, and they were taught to take pride in their African-American heritage.

Success isn’t new to his family. He became the fourth generation to graduate from college; even his grandmother and great-grandmother managed to earn degrees in an era when it was rare for women or blacks to attend college. Mr. Jones received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

During his studies, he became involved in conservative causes and organizations, including the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, which believes in a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and of laws. Those beliefs, some liberal critics suggest, would lead him to take a narrow approach on legal questions confronting the Education Department. Strict construction, in their view, equates to looking the other way whenever possible.

Mr. Jones’ career has included jobs on both coasts. In Washington, he was the majority counsel to the then-Republican- controlled Senate Judiciary Committee for one year, in 1997, and served as the president of the Center for New Black Leadership, a group that advocates measures such as school vouchers, from 1995 to 1997.

He now works for a San Francisco-based law firm that represents several major corporations. He’s also a member of a diversity panel for the Borders and Waldenbooks bookstore chains, which had faced complaints of discrimination in service from minority customers.

While working for then-Gov. Pete Wilson of California, a Republican, Mr. Jones was instrumental in securing the passage of a controversial basic-skills test for students in grades 2-11. Some educators said the test was an invalid assessment of student progress, while some decried the state’s insistence that every student take the test in English.

“His role in crafting the legal blueprint for California’s statewide testing system—and in successfully defending it from legal challenge—is one very relevant and very good example of his great value as an education law specialist,” Mr. Wilson wrote in a letter to the Senate.

—Joetta Sack

Legislation and Congressional Affairs

Few would argue that Becky Campoverde lacks the credentials for her job heading the office of legislation and congressional affairs.

She has extensive experience both at the Department of Education and on Capitol Hill, including as the deputy staff director for the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

But Ms. Campoverde, 50, has come a long way to reach her new position: from the other side of the equator, actually. Born in Quito, Ecuador, she immigrated with her family to the United States when she was 7.

Becky Campoverde

Beyond the cultural shock of that change, she had some other adjustments to make.

“When we landed, it was February in Chicago,” said Ms. Campoverde, a naturalized U.S. citizen. “I came from the mountains of Ecuador. ... I had never experienced anything like a Chicago winter.”

Before entering the political world, Ms. Campoverde was a substitute teacher for about a year in Asheville, N.C. After moving to Dallas, she worked as a radio reporter and then as a spokeswoman for the Dallas Independent School District.

Her first job in Washington, from 1983 to 1986, was as a legislative aide to then-Rep. Steve Bartlett, R-Texas, a conservative active on education policy.

“I thought it was one of the most fascinating, bizarre, exciting experiences I had had,” she said. “I loved it. I was hooked.”

Ms. Campoverde left Congress in 1986 to work in the office she now runs. From then until 1993, she served in a variety of capacities at the department, ultimately becoming deputy chief of staff to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander during the first Bush administration.

After moving into consulting work, she returned to Congress in 1998 to work for the Education and the Workforce Committee.

She describes the assistant secretary’s job as involving “anything and everything that has to do with Congress,” from lobbying for the department’s legislative agenda to dealing with requests from members of Congress. She also is the principal adviser to Secretary Rod Paige on legislative matters.

—Erik W. Robelen

Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs

When Laurie Rich was a high school teacher in Texas, she never cared what officials in Washington were doing for education, she admits.

“I don’t think a teacher thinks about Washington,” Ms. Rich said. “What teachers want is to do well in a classroom and have their students succeed. They want to do a good job and change kids’ lives.”

Then Ms. Rich switched careers and came to Washington to work in the offices of Texas lawmakers and as the state of Texas’ official lobbyist. After six years as the executive director of the Texas Office of State-Federal Relations, she’s come back to her roots in education.

This time, Ms. Rich, 47, has been tapped by President Bush to help the Department of Education coordinate its work with regional, state, and local education agencies in drawing up and rolling out policies for schools. She was confirmed by the Senate in July 19 to be the department’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs.

As the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act is finally adopted and begins to take effect sometime in the coming months—two varying forms of the measure are pending before a House-Senate conference committee—Ms. Rich will be on the front lines for the department. Her job will be to respond to what undoubtedly will be myriad state and local concerns about the law, including how to implement an expected mandate for annual testing that is the linchpin of Mr. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” plan.

“There’s a lot of questions about the testing and a lot of misinformation,” Ms. Rich said. “We have to make sure they they understand.”

Her former colleagues say she’s the perfect woman for the job because of her knack for building coalitions and reaching consensus on issues.

“She has the ability to move quickly and push the staff to accomplish goals,” said Ed Perez, the acting executive director of the Texas state office in Washington. “She’s one of those ‘Let’s make it happen’ kinds of people.”

Ms. Rich’s résumé includes stints as a special assistant and senior legislative assistant for outreach in the office of Sen. Phil Gramm and as an acting administrative assistant to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, both Texas Republicans.

Ms. Rich says she’ll try to help teachers and local educators see how federal policy can directly affect their lives for the better.

“As a teacher, my strongest recollection was the fear of ‘Will I know what I am doing?’” Ms. Rich said. “ ‘No Child Left Behind’ gives a lot of structure for teachers. The accountability piece is not just for students, it’s for teachers.”

—Lisa Fine

Vocational and Adult Education

For Carol D’Amico, the recently confirmed assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, one of the challenges of managing federal vocational programs will be spreading the message about why they matter at all.

“There is not a good understanding of what career and technical education is and how it fits into creating higher standards,” Ms. D’Amico said on her car phone as she drove through Pennsylvania in early September on her way to Washington.

Sworn into her new job July 31, Ms. D’Amico, 49, will oversee a wide array of vocational and adult education programs, including school-to-work efforts, tech-prep initiatives, and adult literacy. For the past two years, the Ontario, Canada, native served as the executive director for workforce, economic, and community development at Ivy Tech State College-Indianapolis, a part of Indiana’s two-year college system. Ms. D’Amico also served as a policy and planning specialist at the Indiana Department of Education.

As a senior policy analyst with the Hudson Institute, an Indianapolis-based policy-research organization, she co-wrote, among other publications, Workforce 2020, a book that looked at how technological changes have affected the workplace.

“She will bring a genuine sort of yen for reform,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education under President Reagan who worked with Ms. D’Amico at the Hudson Institute and now heads the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington. “She has been around this field for a long time.”

Ms. D’Amico says her varied experience at community colleges, policy organizations, and a state education agency has prepared her well for her new federal role. “I have learned a lot firsthand about the challenges adults face going into the workforce and about the transition students make from high school into college,” she said.

Because of the lengthy nomination and confirmation process, her furniture has just recently arrived in her new office, almost seven months into the Bush administration. Ms. D’Amico expressed an eagerness to begin work.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “This is a great time to be part of the Education Department. Education is the president’s top domestic priority.”

—John Gehring

Chief Financial Officer

If he becomes the chief financial officer of the Department of Education, Jack Martin will be faced with a politically sensitive task: balancing the books of a federal agency that has faced frequent charges of mismanagement.

But department officials say Mr. Martin is well prepared for the job, noting that he has extensive experience handling the finances of domestic federal agencies. Most notably, he served at the Department of Health and Human Services as the chairman of the Provider Reimbursement Board from 1991 to 1994. That position was a political appointment by the first President Bush.

Mr. Martin, 60, founded an accounting firm that bears his name in Birmingham, Mich., in 1975. The company, which has grown to four offices in Michigan and one in Washington, advertises itself as a minority-run business that offers a multitude of accounting services. Mr. Martin is African-American.

“Over the years, Jack Martin & Co. has assembled an excellent, multidisciplinary, professional staff with expertise in such diverse fields as accounting, personnel management, psychology, engineering, research and evaluation, computer science, and mathematics,” the company’s Web site reads.

Mr. Martin also serves on a Michigan advisory committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and is a member of the board of several health-insurance, health-research, cultural, and professional groups in Michigan.

Because his nomination has not yet come before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee for review, Mr. Martin and his family and co-workers have declined to comment on his selection.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige, though, said Mr. Martin met all his criteria for the department’s new appointees: experience in the field, an ability to work with others, a commitment to President Bush’s education agenda, and a knowledge of what works.

“He fits the category,” Mr. Paige said.

—Joetta Sack


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