NJ Education Commissioner Adds to Top Staff

John Mooney | November 15, 2012 | Education
Cerf names three to key posts as part of latest reorganization

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf shifted his top staff around a little more yesterday, formally naming a new chief academic officer for the state and two other top directors to oversee day-to-day operations and the department’s school finance offices.

Tracey Severns, a Mount Olive middle-school principal a year ago, was confirmed by the State Board of Education to be the new chief academic officer in charge of the department’s instructional programs, including early childhood education, early literacy and the state’s transition to the Common Core State Standards.

She replaces Penny MacCormack, who left the department this month to become Montclair schools superintendent. Severns had been MacCormack’s deputy since August.

In addition, Cerf named a new chief of staff, William Haldeman, and a new chief of operations and legal affairs, Susana Guerrero.

Haldeman had been a special assistant to Cerf for 16 months and was promoted to replace former chief of staff David Hespe, who left to become president of Burlington County College.

Guerrero comes from Gov. Chris Christie’s general counsel office and had been one of the governor’s primary liaisons with the department. She will report directly to Cerf and oversee the department’s school finance office, as well as its lobbying and legal affairs functions.

Credit: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger
In addition, Cerf said he will add another assistant commissioner to serve as a new “chief school improvement officer” to oversee the state’s seven new Regional Achievement Centers, which are charged with assisting the lowest-performing schools. He said that individual has yet to be chosen.

The new positions and hires were part of a reorganization plan approved by the State Board of Education yesterday in its monthly meeting.

The changes are largely based on the more extensive reorganization that Cerf announced a year ago, but do include some significant shifts in responsibilities. For instance, state testing will now be the responsibility of Chief Performance Officer Bari Erlichson; that was previously the chief academic officer’s role.

Several other high-ranking positions and job descriptions were also confirmed by the board yesterday, some filled by individuals already on the job and others with new personnel.

“Between our existing staff and these new appointments, I remain convinced that we have one of the strongest education teams in the entire country,” Cerf wrote in announcing the reorganization to his department.

The other changes are as follows:

  • Justin Barra was named as Chief Policy and External Affairs Officer. Barra has been with the department since Cerf’s start, initially as his communications director. Now he will oversee communications as well as a new policy office to support research and design of new initiatives.
  • Barbara Morgan, the commissioner’s press secretary for six months, has been named as the Director of the Office of Public Information.
  • Kedda Williams is a new hire who will oversee the new Office of Strategic Communications and Partnerships. Formerly with the Newark school district, she will help direct efforts to work and communicate directly with educators in the schools.
  • Barbara Horl was named as the new Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs, the department’s chief lobbyist with the Legislature. She had previously been a lobbyist with the New Jersey School Boards Association.