The superintendent’s office is the District’s equivalent of a state education department. It is the liaison between the federal Education Department and the city, and it has a range of responsibilities. Those include administering standardized exams, overseeing early-childhood education programs and providing transportation for special-education students.
Grant, 42, succeeds Hanseul Kang, who stepped down from the role in September to become the first executive director of the Broad Center at the Yale School of Management, which trains superintendents and chancellors to lead big urban education systems. Shana Young has served as the interim superintendent since then and will return to her job as chief of staff in the office, officials said.
Grant “is a seasoned leader and manager with two decades of experience overseeing complex budgets, accountability systems, and policy and politics across several organizations,” Bowser said in a news release.
In Philadelphia, Grant reported to the city’s education board and the traditional public school system. She oversaw the authorization and closure processes of the city’s 86 charter schools, making recommendations to Philadelphia’s education board, which had final say. She was also responsible for “innovation” in the traditional public school system, leading efforts to implement alternative programming and models in some schools.
Grant, who has a doctorate in education in organizational leadership, also received leadership training at what was formally known as the Broad Academy, an initiative funded by the late philanthropist and charter school backer Eli Broad. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, who also came from the Philadelphia school system, and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee received training there, too. Kang now heads the Broad Center out of Yale.
Bowser announced Grant’s nomination Thursday at a news conference touting the city’s investments in early-childhood education.
The private early-child-care sector has been battered during the coronavirus pandemic and — if her nomination is approved by the D.C. Council — it will fall to Grant to lead its recovery. Health guidelines have restricted the number of children these day cares could serve for much of the past year, drying up revenue for many centers. Many children have not yet returned to day cares.
Advocates fear that when the city fully reopens, there won’t be enough child-care slots or staff members for families who need them. But Bowser said her proposed fiscal year 2022 budget allocates tens of millions of dollars, much from federal stimulus funds, in part to help struggling day cares pay rent and payroll.
Grant gave brief remarks Thursday, thanking Bowser for the appointment, but did not reveal any clues about her education stances or how she will shape the agency.
Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Action for Children, an advocacy organization, said her group was still researching Grant’s nomination and background. But she said her group wants a leader who will help find a way to pay early-childhood educators more money.
“We’re anxious to learn more,” Perry said. “We want to make sure our system from birth to [age] three is the most equitable one and that means attending to our educators in the system to make sure they are paid adequately and stay in the system.”
Grant’s nomination immediately drew a strong rebuke from some residents and educators on social media, who feared her experience in the charter sector could undermine the city’s neighborhood public schools.
“We look forward to learning more about Ms. Grant, but her close ties to the public charter industry lead to concerns,” the Washington Teachers’ Union tweeted.
The District has a unique system of mayoral education control. Because the District is not a state, Bowser instead of a governor appoints the state superintendent. The city’s other top education officials — chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and the deputy mayor of education — are also appointed by and report to the mayor.
The D.C. Council is floating legislation that would make the superintendent more independent from the mayor. Any action is still a long way off, but the bills signal a growing consensus among council members that there is currently inadequate public oversight of education.