THE INNER CIRCLE: Department of Education

Spellings Team Tackles 'No Child' Problems

By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 12, 2005

In her four months as education secretary, Margaret Spellings has made it clear that her top priority is to fix problems with the No Child Left Behind Act, the Bush administration's landmark education initiative. To defuse opposition to the legislation, she is relying heavily on a group of like-minded aides, several of whom worked with her in Texas, where she was a senior policy adviser to then-Gov. George W. Bush.

Education experts view Spellings's inner circle as somewhat less ideological and more operational than the group that surrounded her predecessor, Roderick R. Paige. It is also more empowered to make decisions. Under Paige, educators and department officials alike frequently complained that real power lay with the White House, and particularly with Spellings, then the president's point person on education.

In recent interviews, key members of the Spellings team said they are attempting to streamline operations at the Education Department, which employs 4,500 people nationwide and oversees an annual budget of $55 billion. They are also trying to clear up some of the controversies left over from the Paige era, including the payment of $240,000 to a columnist to promote No Child Left Behind, which requires every public school student in the country to be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014.

Here are sketches of the key players:

Raymond Simon, assistant secretary
Raymond Simon, assistant secretary(Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)
· Assistant Secretary Raymond Simon , 60, was chief education officer in Arkansas before being brought to Washington in 2004 to quell a growing rebellion over No Child Left Behind. At the time, many state legislatures and teachers organizations were up in arms over a law that they viewed as underfunded and overly intrusive. Up to 50 percent of public schools in some states were failing to meet the requirements of the law, putting many on a path to reorganization and eventual closure.

Simon, a former high school math teacher, was given the tricky task of working with the states to iron out the kinks and inconsistencies in the law, while preserving its principles. His emphasis on "common-sense" changes is in line with Spellings's philosophy. Simon has succeeded in finding a common language with some states but still faces major challenges from Utah, Connecticut, Texas and several other states.

Nominated to become deputy secretary, the number two job at the Education Department, Simon says his experience as a state schools chief has helped him understand "the way policies actually play out." He has been the driving force in working out more flexible rules on disabled students that will make it easier for school districts to meet their obligations under No Child Left Behind.

As education chief in Arkansas, Simon had to cope with the aftermath of the March 1998 Jonesboro school shootings in which four children and a teacher were killed. A forerunner of the shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Red Lake, Minn., the Jonesboro incident "shocked the entire state into reevaluating how we did business," he said.

David L. Dunn, chief of staff
David L. Dunn, chief of staff(Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)
· Chief of Staff David L. Dunn , 48, has worked closely with Spellings for the past 15 years. Both Spellings and Dunn worked for the Texas School Board Association as lobbyists. A budget expert, Dunn later joined a state education policy center, where he helped develop one of the first school accountability systems in the nation.

After Spellings moved to the White House staff in 2001 to oversee the implementation of No Child Left Behind, she brought Dunn as her assistant. They are both viewed as policy wonks, steeped in educational issues. He followed her to the Education Department, where he works out of a seventh-floor office next to hers.

Since taking over as chief of staff, Dunn has reorganized the operations of the department, including the much-criticized information operation. In the past, many program offices had their own spokesmen. On Spellings's instructions, Dunn is pulling the communications effort into a single team "so that we can ensure a consistent message."

"He is smart, energetic, people-friendly and policy-savvy," said Texas lawyer Sandy Kress, who, with Spellings, helped write the No Child Left Behind legislation. While some education experts privately question Dunn's administrative skills, most agree that he is pleasant to deal with.

Robin Gilchrist, deputy chief of staff
Robin Gilchrist, deputy chief of staff(Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)
· Deputy Chief of Staff Robin Gilchrist , 43, worked for Bush and Spellings in Texas as the head of the state reading initiative. Nicknamed the "Reading Czarina" or simply "Madam Czarina" by Gov. Bush, Gilchrist also worked closely with Laura Bush on literacy problems and later served as director of the Texas Family Literacy Center.

As one of two deputy chiefs of staff, Gilchrist has responsibility for the program and policy sides of the Education Department. She has the job of seeing that the secretary's policy priorities are implemented and to think through new initiatives, such as how to improve the study of foreign languages.

Emily K. Lampkin, deputy chief of staff
Emily K. Lampkin, deputy chief of staff(Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)
· Deputy Chief of Staff Emily Kertz Lampkin , 31, has responsibility for communications, as well as serving as strategic adviser to Spellings. A traveling press secretary to Dick Cheney during the 2000 presidential campaign, Lampkin is viewed by some as the conservative at the Department of Education, and the most ideological of Spellings's advisers.

Lampkin moved to the Education Department in 2003 from the Commerce Department to run the communications and outreach office.

Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey knocked down speculation that Lampkin played a role in the controversial decision to hire the Ketchum Inc. public relations firm to rate journalists for their coverage of No Child Left Behind. She said Lampkin was not involved in the Ketchum contract and saw very little of its product.

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