EAA board OKs Conforme as permanent chancellor
Detroit — The Education Achievement Authority on Wednesday unanimously hired its interim chancellor as the new leader of Michigan's troubled district for failing schools.
Veronica Conforme, 41, was the sole candidate for the position after the board voted a second time to extend her contract as interim chancellor through Dec. 31. The other finalist, Carlton D. Jenkins, dropped out of the race. The former superintendent of Saginaw Public Schools was hired last month as chief academic officer for the Atlanta, Georgia, Public Schools.
The board took the vote to hire Conforme at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
"First, I want to thank the board for their confidence in me," Conforme said after the meeting. "It is an honor for me to be named chancellor. I have been out in the community talking to schools, parents and students to listen to what is working and what is not working."
She added: "There are two major fundamental issues I want to address: One, what is going on in the classroom and how we can raise academic achievement. Two, I am doing a review of the organization ... We have no more time to waste. There's a lot of work that needs to be done improving our schools."
Board members praised Conforme in remarks before voting to hire her for the permanent position.
"I very strongly move that we vote on a new chancellor," said board member Mike Morris, who participated in the meeting by phone. "Veronica Conforme has done an excellent job making herself available to parents and students and she's done an impressive job."
Carol Goss seconded the motion, saying, "Veronica Conforme has done an excellent job reaching out at a difficult time for us."
Board member Timothy Wood said, "Since coming here, she has done a lot of work engaging staff and students."
Conforme receives the same salary already in her contract as interim chancellor, $27,083.33 per month — the same amount paid to former chancellor John Covington. Board chairwoman Joyce Hayes Giles said they must work out the details of Conforme's new contract.
"We obviously have to take the next step of working through the contract," she said. "We will roll up our sleeves and get the job done, but I don't anticipate any issues."
Giles also addressed the board's initial plan to conduct a forum to discuss the two finalists. That never happened, she said, because of timing conflicts with key community stakeholders she said she did not want to name.
"I don't feel we slighted the public," she said. "We needed to move things along because the longer you have an interim, it sounds as if we are in transition and leaves people with a lot of uncertainty."
During the meeting, the district also announced that Michelle Crockett, the EAA's general counsel, has resigned to accept another position.
Conforme, a former chief operating officer of the New York City Public Schools will be charged with trying to fix the system's academics and finances.
The EAA, designed to turn around the state's lowest performing schools, has struggled with low test scores, falling enrollment and funding shortfalls. The district operates 12 direct-run schools and three charters, all taken over from Detroit Public Schools.
Gov. Rick Snyder announced the EAA's creation in June 2011 and the district opened 15 months later. Enrollment fell nearly 24 percent last fall, and its budget is projected to shrink $26.4 million this school year. Proposals to expand the district have stalled in the legislature.
Last month, the district estimated this fall's enrollment at 6,500, in line with its projections.
Conforme was a consultant to the EAA for five months before becoming interim chancellor when Covington abruptly resigned in June.
One of Conforme's first acts as interim chancellor was to implement new rules regarding staff travel and credit card use, after a Detroit News investigation discovered Covington tallied more than $240,000 in credit card charges in two years.
About Veronica Conforme
Education: Master's in public administration and public policy, Columbia University; bachelor of arts in international relations and Spanish literature, Syracuse University.
Background: Interim chancellor of EAA since June 2014; consultant to EAA chancellor, January to June 2014; chief operating officer, New York City Department of Education, October 2011 to April 2013; chief financial officer, New York City Department of Education, November 2010 to October 2011.
Boards and affiliations: Board member of the News Literacy Project, a national educational program that mobilizes journalists to work with educators to teach students how to sort fact from fiction.