Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource
Kindergartners at Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has put together a team of advisers on children’s issues and education that is almost certainly larger than any governor in California’s history. The appointments tilt heavily toward early childhood, reflecting Newsom’s embrace during his campaign and his first few weeks as governor of the importance of a child’s earliest years. In his budget for next year, he has proposed spending nearly $1.8 billion on early childhood programs.

In fact, Newsom has made multiple appointments focused on children and education issues.

Ben Chida is Newsom’s senior policy adviser for “cradle to career.” The title is a reference to Newsom’s pledge in the campaign to create a “cradle to career” system of education in California — one that begins at birth and extends into the workplace. Chida previously was an adviser to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., when she was attorney general in California. He attended Orange College, a California community college, and received a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley. He then got a law degree from Harvard Law School. Along the way, he was a 3rd-grade teacher. Intriguingly, he was a roofer “while attending continuation high school and a community college for five years,” according to the bio from Newsom’s office.

Giannina Pérez is senior policy adviser for early childhood. Pérez formerly worked for Early Edge California and Children Now, both well-known advocacy organizations. She is no stranger to the Legislature, having worked for former Sen. Hilda Solis and Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez. She has a master’s degree from UCLA’s school of public affairs.

At the other end of the education spectrum, Lande Ajose  has been appointed senior policy advisor for higher education. She formerly was director of California Competes, an advocacy organization promoting greater college access. She is currently chair of the California Student Aid Commission. She has a master’s degree from UCLA’s School of Public Affairs and a doctorate in Urban and Regional Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Newsom also has notably appointed a senior policy adviser for immigration who presumably will have some impact on education-related issues because of the large numbers of immigrant children in California schools. She is Gina De Silva who formerly worked at the California Immigrant Policy Center, a policy and advocacy organization.

Further underscoring the importance of early education, Newsom has appointed Kris Perry, 54, as a senior adviser to the governor for implementation of his early childhood development initiatives. Perry will be based at the Department of Health and Human Services as deputy secretary for early childhood development. Perry, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz, was previously president of the Save the Children Action Network and executive director of the First Five Years Fund. She also headed First 5 California, as well as First 5 San Mateo. In 2009, she was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that challenged, and then overturned, the voter initiative banning same-sex marriage in California.

Newsom created an entirely new post by naming Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, 43, California’s first surgeon general. Burke Harris, the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness, has a national reputation for her work on adverse early childhood experiences, often referred to as ACEs. She is a leader of the Bay Area Research Consortium on Toxic Stress and Health. According to Newsom, her work as surgeon general will focus on “combating the root causes of serious health conditions — like adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress — and using the platform of surgeon general to reach young families across the state.”

A key appointee likely to have the greatest impact on education — and policies affecting children generally — is Ann O’LearyNewsom’s chief of staff, who has a long history of championing improvements to children’s health and well-being. O’Leary was formerly senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign and was her legislative director when Clinton was in the U.S. Senate. She played a key role in the passage of the Child Health Insurance Program.

Catherine Llamon, Newsom’s legal affairs secretary, also could influence policies related to children and education, especially in regards to equity and racial justice issues. Llamon headed up the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education in the Obama administration and was subsequently chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Newsom has yet to fill four vacancies on the State Board of Education. Still evolving is Newsom’s relationship with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who by all accounts — and appearances — is working closely with the new governor.   Thurmond’s appointments are also being watched closely, as they will have an impact on how a range of education policies will be implemented.

Thurmond has appointed Lupita Alcalá to work under him as chief deputy superintendent. Alcalá was formerly executive director of the California Student Aid Commission. She had previously worked in the California Department of Education in a variety of roles, including deputy superintendent.

Thurmond also named Catalina Cifuentes and Khieem Jackson as deputy superintendents in the California Department of Education. Cifuentes will head the Performance, Planning and Technology Branch in the California Department of Education. Jackson will oversee the department’s Government Affairs Division.

Over the next several months, EdSource will regularly shine a spotlight on new appointments and initiatives as a service to researchers, advocates, parent leaders and others in light of the major political transitions in both Sacramento and Washington.   This is the first report in an ongoing series. 

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  1. Patricia Romo 10 months ago10 months ago

    As a long-time educator in career tech ed, I've watched funding go from categorical (now a bad word for some reason) in the amount of $480 milllion annually (2008/09 ROCP funding) to a "fund if you want to" model with LCFF (with rising mandated expenditures K-12 districts can't afford to fund) to a current model of a dedicated $150 million competitive grant program. It's not enough, and unless it's dedicated, stable funding (not … Read More

    As a long-time educator in career tech ed, I’ve watched funding go from categorical (now a bad word for some reason) in the amount of $480 milllion annually (2008/09 ROCP funding) to a “fund if you want to” model with LCFF (with rising mandated expenditures K-12 districts can’t afford to fund) to a current model of a dedicated $150 million competitive grant program. It’s not enough, and unless it’s dedicated, stable funding (not a grant) we can’t plan for next year and grow programs from year to year. California can’t have Cradle to Career without dedicated CTE funding in K-12 and for adults (non-community college, which has a different focus and long-term outcomes) Please consider $500 million, annual dedicated funding for CTE in California.

  2. Terri 10 months ago10 months ago

    While I'm delighted that the Governor has selected to focus energies on Early Childhood, I certainly hope that his team uses the many, already performed research projects that say over and over that play is the best way for young children to learn. Setting up classrooms with table and chairs and seat-work, just because its results are "testable" and will "prove" what a good job the environments are doing does not do children justice. … Read More

    While I’m delighted that the Governor has selected to focus energies on Early Childhood, I certainly hope that his team uses the many, already performed research projects that say over and over that play is the best way for young children to learn. Setting up classrooms with table and chairs and seat-work, just because its results are “testable” and will “prove” what a good job the environments are doing does not do children justice. They need to run, jump, climb, build, swing, dig, and master large body control before you put a crayon in their hands. Let’s hope these “experts” contact and listen to those of us who have been doing it longer than some of them have been alive.

  3. Jean Buennagel 11 months ago11 months ago

    Is there some reason why everyone’s age is stated? Is that relevant to something?

  4. dina pielaet 11 months ago11 months ago

    Most careers in our state are a hardship without free comprehensive health care service for all residents. We must start there. How about “from cradle to grave health care coverage” first? Even at $50,000/ year salary, take home pay is limited enough, and then there are the insurance premiums. Most Californians find that life in our great state is becoming less bearable!

  5. Bill Conrad 11 months ago11 months ago

    Just what we need in California another slick slogan like "Cradle to Career"! We have proven ineffectual in being able to solve the real achievement problems and gaps in K-12 so we just move on to see if we can generate some new fog for our ever suffocating educational morass by focusing on early childhood. That's how it goes in education. When you can't solve the main problem, pick a new problem to solve … Read More

    Just what we need in California another slick slogan like “Cradle to Career”! We have proven ineffectual in being able to solve the real achievement problems and gaps in K-12 so we just move on to see if we can generate some new fog for our ever suffocating educational morass by focusing on early childhood. That’s how it goes in education. When you can’t solve the main problem, pick a new problem to solve and hope for the best.

    It is unlikely that this new initiative will have much impact as the system is very good at laying on a patina of change but not very good at making real substantive change as we are always able to substitute special case for system change and we easily conflate means with ends. Not to mention the inability to implement, monitor, or evaluate new educational initiatives.

    Even if we are successful with improving early childhood readiness, children will be moving into a K-12 system that is in utter chaos with fewer than half of the children meeting reading standards by 3rd grade as most districts follow a magical “Eyes on Print” pedagogy rather than a reading pedagogy driven by science and focuses on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

    And not even a peep about hiring someone to transform the utterly embarassing “colleges” of education within California that recruit the weakest candidates and train them poorly leaving school districts in a constant state of PD triage to try and bring these unprepared barely able to pass licensing exam amateurs up to speed.

    So sad to be in the fog. It will be at least 2.5 generations before we are able to recognize the problems in K-12 let alone address the problems as life is currently too good for the adults in the system. It is our children who pay the price for our feel good education schmoozers. Hopefully, they will be well adjusted as they take their service jobs at Burger King while graduates from foreign lands take jobs that our children could have successfully competed for as electrical engineers in Silicon Valley.