Updated: Dec. 9, 4:40 p.m.: After a search that sputtered for months, the D.C. Public Charter School Board has found a new executive director. He is Scott Pearson, a former U.S. Department of Education official and co-founder of a San Francisco charter management organization.
He replaces Josephine Baker, who retired in May.
While the $180,000-a-year post is low-profile, it is a critical spot at a propitious moment for the city’s charter school movement. Steady growth has pushed enrollment at the 98 charter campuses to more than 40 percent of the public school population. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and his deputy mayor for education, De’Shawn Wright, are far more charter-friendly than the Fenty-Rhee regime.
The executive director runs the board staff that oversees school performance and screens charter applicants. He will also be at the table as the city sorts through the findings of the Illinois Facilities Fund, a firm commissioned by Wright to determine what communities are underserved by quality schools. A commission appointed by the D.C. Council is expected to make recommendations in late January to ensure more uniformity in the funding of public and public charter schools.
“D.C. is arguably one of the two or three most vibrant and important centers of charter schools in the country,” said Pearson, 49, in an interview Thursday at the board’s Columbia Heights offices.
He listed three priorities: continued attention to school quality, efforts to make charters more accessible to special needs students — a big issue in the District — and to “defend against the creeping re-regulation of charter schools.” Asked if he saw the creep in the District, however, he backed off.
Pearson, who holds two masters degrees from Harvard (public and business administration) comes to the job with both local and national charter experience. He was most recently an Obama Administration appointee at the Education Department, where he served as associate assistant deputy secretary in the Office of Innovation and Improvement under Jim Shelton, the former education director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His portfolio included the federal charter schools program, which provides financial support and promotes public understanding of the charter movement.
He co-founded the Leadership Public Schools, a Bay Area charter management organization with high schools in Richmond, Hayward, San Jose and College Park. Prior to that he was an executive with AOL and Bain and Company.
“I am absolutely convinced that we hit a grand slam for the charter sector,” said board president Brian Jones.
Pearson is the product of a search that went in fits and starts through the summer and fall. Two sources familiar with process said the board initially chose Thurgood Marshall Academy co-founder Josh Kern, but that he and the board couldn’t agree to terms. The board started again, this time with the help of the K12 Search Group, an Austin-based education headhunting firm. Sources said the short list consisted of Pearson and board member Darren Woodruff, principal research analyst at the American Institutes for Research.
Pearson starts Jan. 9.
This post has been updated since it was first published.