Youngkin Scrambles to Re-Staff His Education Department After High-Profile Departures

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, speaks to members of the media after the General Assembly adjourned for the year inside the Rotunda of the State Capitol Building, late Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Youngkin said he was disappointed that the 15-week pain threshold abortion bill failed to pass the Senate, stating that a majority of Virginians support the bill. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

By Meghin Moore

March 24, 2023

On Tuesday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced three new education-related appointees to his administration: Dr. Lisa Coons, Superintendent of Public Instruction; Dr. Jeremy Raley, Chief of Staff for Virginia’s Department of Education; and Dale Sturdifen, Board of Education.

After more than a year of controversy within Virginia’s Department of Education (VDOE), Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is continuing his effort to reshape Virginia’s public education system with a spate of new appointees.

To replace controversial former superintendent Jillian Balow — who will still receive a full year of pay after her resignation — Youngkin has appointed Dr. Lisa Coons to be the new superintendent of public instruction in Virginia. 

Coons is currently the Chief Academic Officer with the Tennessee Department of Education. She also has worked with Metro Nashville Public Schools and was the executive director of instructional leadership with the Tennessee Department of Education. There she focused on reading initiatives and tutoring programs.

Coons will start her position on April 17 and will be entering a Department of Education where officials are still trying to revise history and social studies standards for Virginia’s public schools. The department is also still facing backlash due to the proposed “model policies” on transgender students, as well as a $201 million error in calculating how much funding schools were set to receive — an issue that still isn’t fully resolved, since there isn’t a set budget plan in place for the commonwealth.

Dr. Jeremy Raley was also announced as the new chief of staff within the VDOE. He has been the superintendent of Goochland County Public Schools since 2016 and was previously with Shenandoah County Public Schools.

Youngkin also announced a new pick for the Board of Education: Dale Sturdifen, a Marine Corps veteran who has served on the Mecklenburg County School Board for the last 11 years. 

Sturdifen’s appointment comes after the state Senate voted to remove Youngkin appointee Suparna Dutta from the board. Sen. Ghazala Hashmi introduced the measure to block Dutta’s appointment, and she outlined her concerns regarding Dutta’s grasp of the nation’s history.

“This particular board member indicated that racism was not a factor in American history, that the Constitution of the United States did not have any indications of racism or slavery within the document,” Hashmi said.

This is, of course, obviously false on several levels, not the least of which is the fact that the U.S. Constitution included the “Three-Fifths Clause,” which stated that any person who was not free would be counted as three-fifths of a free person for the purposes of congressional representation. 

Dutta also had the backing of Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, who has been investigated for her role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and is married to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Before her appointment, Dutta campaigned for Youngkin and led the group “Educators for Youngkin.”

Sturdifen himself previously worked for far-right, election-denying Republican Rep. Bob Good as a field director and has made some questionable social media posts on public platforms, as pointed out by VPM’s Ben Paviour. Some of Sturdifen’s comments include denying the “separation of church and state,” questioning the sincerity of people protesting during the summer of 2020 in support of racial justice, and he has also discussed supporting the Confederate flag.

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