June 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Interim leader promises 'hard look' at EAA's problems

Interin EEA Chancellor Veronica Conforme toured Mumford High School with 11th grade student Willie Jones,17, on Wednesday. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)

Detroit — The interim chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority said her first order of business will be to perform a full assessment of every department in the organization and make any necessary changes.

Veronica Conforme, introduced Wednesday morning to members of the community, school staff and media at Mumford High School, is stepping into her new post at a time when the EAA is deeply mired in controversy as Michigan’s first reform school district. It operates 15 of the state’s lowest performing schools, all located in Detroit.

Critics have raised questions about the school’s spending practices, its declining enrollment, financial stability and teacher turnover. Conforme said every aspect of the school will be examined.

“We also need to hard look at the EAA and the job its performing,” Conforme said. “We are going to see what’s working and build on that and we are going to see the things that are not working and fix those things. As with every organization there are growing pains and things we need to change. We will change them.”

In her remarks, Conforme, 41, said she is humbled by the opportunity to serve the families of Detroit and is committed to the EAA’s student-centered learning model, which she says has “freed countless students to learn at their own pace and has changed the culture of what’s failing schools.”

“I believe in the EAA, I believe in our schools and our families and most of all our children. I am committed to furthering the historic mission to ensure that all our student receive a high quality education regardless of family income and ZIP code,” she said.

Carol Goss, an EAA board member and its former chair, introduced Conforme, who has been an adviser to the EAA since January, praising her work in New York and with the College Board to ensure children have access to a high quality education. Conforme will make $325,000 in her new role after being appointed by the EAA board.

Conforme served at the New York City Department of Education, becoming its chief operating officer, overseeing its $23 billion budget and 130,000 employees. She also served as chief financial officer and the deputy chief schools officer, overseeing the day-to-day activities of the city’s 1,700 public schools.

She holds a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a master’s degree in public administration and public policy from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She currently resides with her husband in Detroit.

Peter Remington with the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, which has donated millions of dollars to the EAA for start-up costs its first three years, said philanthropic donors are not pulling back in response to the political debate surrounding the EAA. State lawmakers failed to approve bills to expand the authority.

“Are funders pulling back? No.....Our funding levels continue to be very high. We continue to have a number of $10 million gifts. We have all the major corporations involved,” Remington said.

The MEEF has raised $76 million from private donors, which goes to the EAA, the Detroit Scholarship Fund and Excellent Schools Detroit. Remington said he could not disclose how much if any money was going to the EAA in the new fiscal year, but some would cover start-up costs for athletics and technology.

Conforme is an excellent choice to lead the district, Remington said, which has a proposed budget of $86.2 million for the 2014-15 school year.

“She ran a billion-dollar school and now she is going to run a much smaller organization. She has all the skills set. The MEEF board couldn’t be happier. We are in good hands...she is a perfect replacement,” he said.

JChambers@detroitnews.com