Former Cleveland schools leader named interim chief ed officer

April 30, 2012

Less than one business day after revealing that Chief Education Officer Noemi Donoso is leaving, CPS officials announced that she will be succeeded by Barbara Byrd Bennett, a veteran educator who ran Cleveland schools for seven years.

Though Donoso’s resignation is not effective until May 31, Bennett will be in town working in an advisory role for a month, spokeswoman Becky Carroll says. Bennett will then serve as interim chief education officer.

CPS officials also announced that CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was bringing Beth Mascitti-Miller, a former colleague from Rochester, NY, to fill the role of early childhood chief officer. Last week, legendary early childhood expert Barbara T. Bowman retired.    

In many ways, Bennett seems the opposite of Donoso, who was relatively inexperienced when Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Brizard plucked her from Colorado.

“Bennett is a seasoned and respected leader with depth and expertise across a broad spectrum of education issues,” Brizard said in a press release.

As the first mayoral appointed chief education officer in Cleveland,  Bennett focused on teacher quality, says Charlise L. Lyles, co-founder and former editor of Catalyst Cleveland, the now-defunct sister publication of Catalyst Chicago. Her passion for quality professional development and training for teachers earned her a good relationship with the teachers union.

“She improved the teacher union’s relationship with the district so that there was respect and considerable trust,” Lyles said.

Lyles also said Bennett also concentrated on improving the principals in Cleveland. “She cleaned house and got rid of quite a few principals,” Lyles says.  

After leaving Cleveland, Bennett worked as a consultant for a number of districts, most recently as Detroit schools chief academic and accountability auditor..  

Bennett is also a trustee for an organization called Common Core, a non-profit research and advocacy organization that pushes for a broad liberal education as opposed to a narrow focus on tested subjects.

Carroll says that Bennett has also worked on teacher union contracts, implemented a longer school day and new teacher evaluations. “Given where we are as a district, she is a good fit,” Carroll says.

Brizard was able to tap Bennett quickly because he knew her professionally, Carroll says.

Brizard turned to Mascitti-Miller as someone he knew and trusted. Before leaving Rochester, he hired her as his deputy superintendent of teaching and learning. In that role, she helped write curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

 Mascitti-Miller also led World of Inquiry School No. 58, Rochester’s first K-12 school.

A year ago, Mascitti-Miller had applied for – but did not become – interim superintendent of Rochester City School District. Some speculated that her closeness to Brizard, who had fallen out of favor with the Rochester school board, hurt her candidacy.