After a bumpy start, acting state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet is completing his senior staff with a mix of department veterans and newcomers.
Repollet last week won confirmation of his latest picks for assistant commissioners and deputies — and a few deputy assistant commissioners — putting the stamp on the kinds of personnel he will surround himself with while carrying out policies and initiatives for Gov. Phil Murphy.
These appointments are often as closely watched as any in state government, since the assistant commissioners typically personify the policies and practices to come.
Repollet took a safe path, choosing three department veterans among the five assistant commissioners named thus far, including to the key policy and finance positions.
Most notable was his pick of Linda Eno for assistant commissioner of academics and performance, a critical position in charge of assessment, teacher quality, and other hot-button topics.
This position got Repollet in some trouble back in February, when he picked Paula White for the job and then suddenly withdrew his choice two days later. White had served in the department, but she moved to a pro-charter organization in Newark that didn’t sit well with the governor’s office.
Eno, in contrast, has followed a more traditional route within the department, having served as a director both in Trenton and in the agency’s county offices, as well as being a former principal of a magnet high school in the Monmouth vocational district.
Repollet retained Robert Bumpus as assistant commissioner in charge of field services, and Kevin Dehmer as his assistant commissioner for finance. Both are long-time department officials, and Dehmer especially has been at Repollet’s side in his early legislative appearances.
The newcomers are equally notable. Repollet earlier this year named Kellie LeDet as his chief of staff and assistant commissioner for executive services, overseeing several key divisions including charter schools. LeDet most recently came from the ranks of the U.S. Small Business Administration in the Obama administration, and also has been a longstanding political advisor in the state, including working under U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
A new charter school director who would answer to LeDet has yet to be named, officials said.
The acting commissioner, who himself is waiting formal Senate confirmation, also won state Board of Education approval for Carolyn Marano as his assistant commissioner for student services, the position most notable for its oversight of special-education services. Repollet brings Marano from his previous job as superintendent of Asbury Park schools, where she was director of special services.
Repollet told the board last week that his organization chart is still evolving. One possibility is another assistant commissioner in charge of early childhood education, he said, a move that would fulfill Murphy’s vow to expand preschool in the state.
The new commissioner also seems to moving away from “chief academic officer” and “chief performance officer,” titles that had been established under former Gov. Chris Christie and his four education commissioners, instead reverting back to more traditional assistant commissioner titles.
“I wanted to look at all the offices within the organization and think about how we can get better, how can we create a model organization,” Repollet told the board.
He said he hopes the department will move from a more compliance-based agency to one focused more on assistance and support to districts. It’s been a common refrain from new commissioners over the years, but Repollet said he will press it, especially in rethinking field and student services.
“It starts in the field,” he said, citing the creation of a new professional development office as one example. “Those are the first line of defense, those who interface with districts.”
He said a final organization chart would be presented to the board next month.