Bob Lowry of the New York State Council for School Superintendents told Spectrum News that when former interim commissioner Beth Berlin left the State Education Department in December 2019, there was no apparent successor. 

What You Need To Know

  • Interim SED Commissioner Shannon Tahoe steps down August 13

  • Her resignation comes after the release of guidance on reopening for school districts

  • There have been a slew of high profile exits at State Ed

  • Because of the pandemic, it’s possible that the State Board of Regents may not be able to hire a permanent commissioner for some time

“Shannon (Tahoe) was not an obvious choice because I’m not sure she’d been appointed counsel at that point. But in the past, it had been a deputy commissioner or former deputy commissioner who served as interim commissioner,” explained Lowry.

But interim commissioner Tahoe ended up doing “a phenomenal job” he said.

“That actually gives me some optimism,” he mused. “Perhaps there is someone else (at State Ed) who could step in and fill this role admirably.”  

Tahoe will leave the position on August 13.

Whoever takes the reins will face an uphill battle.  Not only does the job come with an enormous portfolio including, but not limited to, Pre k – 12; college; graduate school; libraries, museums and public broadcasting; and professional licensing, the candidate would be taking the position at a time of tremendous financial and logistical challenges.

Additionally, according to Jay Worona, the Deputy executive director and general counsel of the NYS School Boards Association, the pandemic has made the idea of picking up and moving unpalatable.

“I think you can recognize that we are living in times that have not only not been precedent, but they don’t necessarily call out for people to say, ‘Oh let me move to a new position right now in a new location.’ I think there could be great trepidation on the part of anybody about taking on a new challenge such as this.” 

Lowry, Worona, and State Senator Shelley Mayer, the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, all told Spectrum News that Tahoe did a masterful job during a difficult time.

“I’m not sure how she would feel about the analogy, but this reminds me of Harry Truman,” Lowry said.  “Someone not widely known but highly regarded by those who have known her, stepping into the spotlight and performing phenomenally well in meeting unprecedented challenges.”

“She’s not done yet,” said Senator Mayer.  “She has a few more weeks.  She’s been a steady hand and a thoughtful person who cares about kids, which for me is the number one issue in this conversation.”

Tahoe’s departure follows the release of long-awaited guidance on school reopening that State Ed has provided to districts. 

“The bad news is that the person who everyone was relying on who stood in the position of interim commissioner is not going to be in that seat,” said Worona.  “The good news is that the 145-page, granular, comprehensive document that provided the road map for what decisions schools should be making to figure out how to reopen has been complete.” 

Worona notes that the guidance also appears to be “in total congruity” with the Department of Health, the governor’s directives, and their own guidance. 

Senator Mayer agrees that Tahoe is leaving SED in good shape.

“I’m confident that Regents Chancellor Dr. (Betty) Rosa and whoever is picked as interim commissioner will continue to exercise strong leadership which is their responsibility under the law.  And they’ll work the governor’s office,” she said.

What Mayer is most worried about is childcare.  If schools don’t reopen, what will that mean for working parents?

“I’m less panicked about Shannon Tahoe leaving than I am about what’s actually going to happen to parents and children,” said Mayer.  “I’m very worried about that.”

Interim State Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe’s impending departure caps off a series of high profile exits at SED.

In March of 2019, both Angelica Infante-Green, the deputy commissioner of the office of instructional support P-12, and Jhone Ebert, senior deputy commissioner for P-20 education policy, left for Rhode Island and Nevada, respectively.

In August of 2019, former chief counsel Allison Bianchi left to work as General Counsel and Special Advisor at New York eHealth Collaborative.

While Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced her departure in July of 2019, she left the position in September.

Her replacement was Executive Deputy Commissioner Beth Berlin, who resigned in December of 2019 for a top post at New York’s Empire State College.