Youngkin appoints new superintendent of public instruction

Gov Glenn YoungkinBy Madison Hirneisen

(The Center Square) – Tennessee’s Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons has been appointed to serve as Virginia’s new superintendent of public instruction, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Wednesday.

Coons, who led Tennessee’s revision of its English Language Arts instruction in her most recent role, is expected to assume her new position as the commonwealth’s chief school officer April 17. She has served in her current position since 2019 and previously worked as an executive officer of division priority schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Last week, Coons was named as a finalist in Nebraska’s search for its next Commissioner of Education.

“Dr. Coons’ proven leadership will serve Virginia’s students, families and teachers well and help make Virginia’s education system best-in-class,” Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera said in a statement Wednesday. “She has demonstrated success in addressing learning loss, creating and implementing evidence-based literacy policy and practices, and building strong partnerships with teachers, communities, school and division leaders, and parents.”

Coons’ appointment comes three weeks after Jillian Balow, the previous superintendent of public instruction, resigned from her post. Balow did not provide a reason for her departure in a letter to Youngkin earlier this month.

Coons will join the Virginia Department of Education as it continues to navigate several issues that have provoked criticism in recent months. The department is still reviewing public comments that came in response to the Youngkin administration’s “model policies” for students, which would require students to use bathrooms and participate on sports teams that align with their biological sex instead of their gender identity, among other policies. The standards have been subject to criticism and labeled anti-trans by opponents.

Additionally, the Board of Education continues to weigh revisions to the state’s history and social studies standards, which have been criticized by education groups for leaving out important historical information and context. The board, which just completed a series of public hearings across the commonwealth, is expected to vote on the third version of the standards next month.

The department also faced blowback earlier this year after a calculation error overstated the amount of state aid schools could expect to receive by roughly $201 million. Lawmakers have since passed a budget amendment to ensure schools will not experience a shortfall.

In a statement on Wednesday, Coons said Youngkin “has set a bold academic agenda that puts students first and empowers families to help set priorities for their children.”

“We have an opportunity in Virginia to be the country’s best state for education, and we’ll achieve that vision through partnerships with families, educators and school division leaders,” Coons said.

On Wednesday, Youngkin also announced the appointment of Jeremy Raley, Goochland County superintendent, to serve as the new chief of state at the Department of Education. Raley has been in public education for 26 years and served as superintendent since 2016, according to a news release.

Youngkin has also appointed Dale Sturdifen, a retired Marine and former Mecklenburg County School Board member, to the Board of Education. Sturdifen will replace Youngkin’s former appointee, Suparna Dutta, whose appointment was rejected by Senate Democrats during the recent legislative session.