The head of the school system’s special-education office is stepping down just months after taking the job, leaving her successor — the principal of a school for children with severe disabilities — to continue a major, sometimes turbulent overhaul of the city’s special-education program that is still underway.
Johannah Chase was named chief executive officer of the newly created special-education office in March, making her the top official responsible for students with disabilities under Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi. Before that, Chase had spent more than seven years in the department in various leadership roles.
Recently, advocates had seized on the fact that she had spent only three years as a teacher, and none in classrooms specifically for students with disabilities, according to an article in the Staten Island Advance.
Replacing Chase is Christina Foti, a former special-education teacher, literacy coach, and assistant principal who now leads PS 231K in Brooklyn, which is part of District 75, the citywide network of programs for students with severe disabilities. Several veteran educators have been appointed to top spots in the education department under Chancellor Carmen Fariña, herself a longtime educator who revised the rules so that would-be principals and superintendents now need to work in schools for more years before they can apply for those jobs.
In a letter sent to staffers Wednesday afternoon, Rello-Anselmi made it clear that experience working with special-needs students is now a prerequisite for her second-in-command: It “is essential that the new leader of the Special Education Office have a demonstrated commitment to students with special needs and solid leadership skills,” she wrote.
In the letter, Rello-Anselmi said she was sad to see Chase leave the education department after “eight years of distinguished service.” She did not say where Chase was headed, though she suggested that her “new adventure” would relate to education.
Rello-Anselmi also noted that Chase helped launch the special-education overhaul, a set of new enrollment and instructional policies designed to better integrate students with disabilities with their non-disabled peers. Experts and advocates tend to back the premise of the reform, which was rolled out citywide in 2012, but say the city has not done enough to support schools as they try to carry out the new policies.
Chase also helped set up the special-education office, Rello-Anselmi said, which was created as part of a larger departmental restructuring. Rello-Anselmi’s division previously oversaw students with disabilities and English-language learners, but Fariña recently made the English-learners office into its own division. To lead it, she tapped a retired administrator who has worked as a teacher and principal.
Here is Rello-Anselmi’s email to staffers:
It is with mixed emotions that I write to inform you about an important transition in the Special Education Office. After eight years of distinguished service, Johannah Chase will be leaving the New York City Department of Education. Johannah has demonstrated outstanding leadership and dedication during her time at NYCDOE, managing several key citywide initiatives including launching our efforts to provide students with disabilities equity of access to bright futures through the special education reform. Most recently, she has led the work of establishing the Special Education Office and throughout has always demonstrated a commitment to continuous improvement and doing what is right for kids. While I am sad to see her go, I am excited for her to take on a new adventure as she continues to further our mission to provide public school children with access to the opportunities they deserve.
In order to deepen our work in school communities and build on Johannah’s great work, it is essential that the new leader of the Special Education Office have a demonstrated commitment to students with special needs and solid leadership skills. I am pleased to inform you that Christina Foti, Principal of PS 231K, will take on this role. Christina has a Bachelor of Arts from Vassar College, a Master’s of Science in Special Education from CUNY, and a Post Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Hunter College. Christina has worked as a Special Education Teacher, School-Based Literacy and Positive Behavior Supports Coach, Middle School Coordinator, Assistant Principal, and most recently, District 75 Principal. In these roles she has developed skills in instruction, writing quality IEPs, transition supports as well as a deep understanding of the Shared Path Framework. This knowledge and skill set will allow us to continue expanding our work in providing students with disabilities access to high quality instruction in the least restrictive environment.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all of you for your patience during this time of transition and your continued hard work day in and day out to ensure that all students receive an excellent education.
Most importantly, please join me in thanking Johannah for her tremendous contributions and wishing her well in her next endeavor and welcome Christina to the team.