Gov. Gavin Newsom has named Brooks Allen, a former civil rights attorney and staff counsel for the State Board of Education, to the dual role of the state board’s next executive director and education policy adviser to the governor.

Credit: Ishaan Allen for EdSource

Brooks Allen

Allen’s selection continues an unusual arrangement that former Gov. Jerry Brown started when he was elected to his third term as governor in which the state board staff work on both the governor’s and the state board’s priorities. The result, said Michel Kirst, a former state board president during Brown’s last eight years as governor, is a more consistent and cohesive education policy.

Allen will replace Karen Stapf Walters, who resigned to become executive director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. She succeeded Sue Burr, whom Brown named to both positions in 2011.

Along with the Legislature, the state board oversees and creates K-12 education policy, rules and regulations. The Legislature votes on nominees to the 11-member state board.

For two decades before Brown abolished the office in 2011, governors appointed a secretary of education as the point person on K-12 schools. Instead, Brown and now Newsom have turned to their cabinets, the Department of Finance and the state board for advice and direction. State board President Linda Darling-Hammond is also a close adviser to Newsom, as was Kirst to Brown.

“Sue Burr made (the dual position) work,” Kirst said. There was a “firewall,” he said, between the matters that Burr and then Stapf Walters handled for Brown and the issues that came before the state board. That distinction has continued, he said.

But Kirst acknowledged that dual relationships on the state board were “complex,” given the “quasi-independent” nature of the board. Burr and Stapf Walters would sit in and sometimes represent Brown in key meetings on education outside of the board. Brown made clear his views on broad policies, but didn’t tell state board members how to vote, and, on many issues, never took any stand.

For the past three years, Allen, 45, has been assistant superintendent and legal counsel at the Marin County Office of Education. Before that he was vice president of policy and legal affairs at the nonprofit Common Sense Kids Action, and between 2013 and 2015, deputy policy director and assistant legal counsel at the state board. For a decade before that, he served as staff attorney and then the director of education advocacy for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. He was staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area before that.

Kirst said that as deputy policy director for the state board, Allen was involved in every major policy decision, which will make him “superbly prepared” for his new positions.

“He has a clear grasp of how to navigate state government and will be immediately effective,” Kirst said. “He also understands the subtlety of his dual role and how to handle it. I have the highest regard for him.”

Darling-Hammond said in a statement, “Brooks is a problem-solver and a relationship-builder — key attributes in an executive director. I look forward to working with him as we continue to develop a system that is responsive to the needs of all students and especially those furthest from opportunity.”

Newsom also appointed Debra Brown to the state board as senior policy adviser. Brown, 47, currently is the director of education and government relations at the Oakland-based advocacy organization Children Now. From 2016 to 2018 she was director of the government affairs division at the California Department of Education. For a decade, she was senior legislative advocate at the California School Boards Association.

Correction: Brooks Allen's appointment as executive director to the state board does not require the state Senate's approval. A previous version said that it does. The article was corrected Sept. 12.

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  1. Javier Rodriguez 4 days ago4 days ago

    I'm a retired teacher with 30 years experience in an elementary classroom setting. This was in the Long Beach Unified School District and Santa Ana Unified Schools. I also have 3 boys who attended school in the Garden Grove Unified School District. I fully agree with Brenda's comment. As a Hispanic teacher, I am shocked that Hispanic parents are being left out and not being told this crucial information concerning educational policies which impact their … Read More

    I’m a retired teacher with 30 years experience in an elementary classroom setting. This was in the Long Beach Unified School District and Santa Ana Unified Schools. I also have 3 boys who attended school in the Garden Grove Unified School District. I fully agree with Brenda’s comment. As a Hispanic teacher, I am shocked that Hispanic parents are being left out and not being told this crucial information concerning educational policies which impact their children. Hispanic parents will have a fit when they learn about these radical gender teachings. They will not agree with this nonsense. The California Department of Education has moved from “education” to “indoctrination.” It’s time for reform. I hope these new hires by Newsom will help make reform happen. We can’t let these educational objectives and curriculum into our classrooms without a proper review of all parents.and teachers.

  2. William Ramirez 1 week ago1 week ago

    So John F. what you’re saying is Brooks Allen is Newsom’s henchman to enforce these state board policies that strip parents of their God-given rights? Well, if that’s supposed to make me feel better, as a father of 3 public school children, it’s not working. The State has crossed a sacred line and parents (of all races and sociology-economic backgrounds) will not put up with this.

  3. Ken Williams 1 week ago1 week ago

    I am the president of the Orange County Board of Education. While I appreciate the optimistic remarks about the incoming educational leaders appointed by Gov.Newsom, I do not agree or share the same “Pollyanna” view. Brooks Allen, the incoming Executive Director and Education Policy Advisor, is a former So. Cal ACLU attorney. If immigrant parents think he will help increase their parental rights and civil liberties when it comes to their … Read More

    I am the president of the Orange County Board of Education. While I appreciate the optimistic remarks about the incoming educational leaders appointed by Gov.Newsom, I do not agree or share the same “Pollyanna” view. Brooks Allen, the incoming Executive Director and Education Policy Advisor, is a former So. Cal ACLU attorney. If immigrant parents think he will help increase their parental rights and civil liberties when it comes to their children receiving “gender identity” instruction in school, they are mistaken. The So Calif ACLU are members of the Calif Coalition of Safe Schools. http://www.casafeschools.org/OptOutQA.pdf

    This is what they say about parent rights: Q#5.. if parents choose to place their children in public schools, parental rights are generally outweighed by the state’s interests in educating students. Q#7 Regarding curriculum or materials that discuss gender.., parents are not entitled to have notice of or the opportunity to opt their children out of such programs. California Education Code § 51932(b).
    I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if parents do not agree with the state’s new Gender Identity definition that says a child can be male, female, both, neither or something else (on a spectrum), the state basically says, “too bad, so sad”. Mr Brooks supports the state and Gov Newsom on these issues, not the views or parental rights of most Calif immigrant, minority parents.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 week ago1 week ago

      Ken and others who have written similar comments: While Brooks Allen will be an adviser to Gov. Newsom, his job as executive director of the State Board of Education will be to carry out actions and policies set by the State Board of Education, not to create them on his own.

  4. Rosemarie Avila 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    As a 17 year school board member, in a 96% Hispanic school district there has always been one thing that disturbed me. The abuse and lack of respect for the Hispanic community by the educational establishment. Our communities are always used as experiments for the latest fads in education. California brought in Whole Language reading and spread it across the nation. But when the results were in California came in last in the nation in … Read More

    As a 17 year school board member, in a 96% Hispanic school district there has always been one thing that disturbed me.

    The abuse and lack of respect for the Hispanic community by the educational establishment. Our communities are always used as experiments for the latest fads in education. California brought in Whole Language reading and spread it across the nation. But when the results were in California came in last in the nation in reading. Our state Superintend Bill Honig had to apologize for the debacle. Bilingual education teaching methods which produced neither Spanish or English proficient students had to be dismantled by the voters with Prop 227.

    Instead of doing what works or what has been proven to be successful we continually experiment on our poor disadvantaged populations where parents work several jobs and have language barriers. Instead of high expectations we expect low achievement.

    Instead of a failed bilingual program we should be giving our Hispanic and minority students four languages. English, Spanish, Latin and a third language of their choice such as Chinese. Many private schools do this successfully. English must be the priority if we expect students to go to college or raise to management in businesses.

    Most white students go to private school because their parents can afford it or are willing to sacrifice. And many Hispanics are choosing charter schools. The public schools will continue to fail when they disrespect parents and minorities with experimental agendas like gender spectrums. Once the damage is done in our schools it takes the next generation to correct itself. Students suffer life long consequences. Drugs should not be dispensed without clinical trails and human testing neither should education divinations be pushed on our most vulnerable children. It is a crime against children.

    Hopefully the new education Director will protect the children and demand proven success.

    Replies

    • Bo Loney 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      I am not Hispanic but I agree with experimentation. I don’t think that the experimentation was specifically connected to race.

  5. Linda Cone 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    As a retired teacher in public schools for 32 years, I am amazed and appalled by what is happening in public education. I live in a highly regarded district. I attend board meetings and speak to these issues. Now a lot parents are leaving. Don’t know how many. Our state leaders and legislators who control Sacramento are under the thumb of the teachers union. Their actions are destroying public education.

  6. Tracy Chung 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I’m a 6th grade public school teacher and I wholeheartedly agree with Brenda Lebsack’s comment. I’m hoping Mr. Brooks and Ms. Brown will listen to parents and increase transparency because our public schools have lost many students and will continue to lose more students over this issue. Parents are tired of being discounted and disrespected. I’m a parent of 4 public school students. I understand the feelings of betrayal due to introduction … Read More

    I’m a 6th grade public school teacher and I wholeheartedly agree with Brenda Lebsack’s comment. I’m hoping Mr. Brooks and Ms. Brown will listen to parents and increase transparency because our public schools have lost many students and will continue to lose more students over this issue. Parents are tired of being discounted and disrespected.

    I’m a parent of 4 public school students. I understand the feelings of betrayal due to introduction of controversial ideologies, such as unlimited gender choices based on a child’s feelings, are coming into our schools with the endorsement of the CA Dept of Education. We, as parents, wanted to teach our kids about these controversial issues at home and sadly, have been uncertain if the schools would honor our parenting wishes. Because of Ca Teachers’ unions attack on parent rights by pushing their controversial agendas into CA school policies, we have placed our students in private school or homeschooled them during different seasons of their educational journey. I also left the California Teachers Association because I had enough of their blatant disregard for parent rights and abuse of power.

    If more teachers start standing up for what’s in the best interest of students and parents’ rights, we can push CTA back into its own lane. If that occurs, I am sure we will see many parents re-enrolling their children back into public schools. I know we would.

  7. Jade Ausmus 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    As a parent of two young children who are racially mixed, I am grateful for fresh leadership coming on the educational scene in California. It is very needed. Something has gone awry in our educational system. My kids, being racially mixed, should not be labeled as either “oppressed” or “privileged”. I want their identity to be based on their character not their skin color. This is nonsense and creates division rather than … Read More

    As a parent of two young children who are racially mixed, I am grateful for fresh leadership coming on the educational scene in California. It is very needed. Something has gone awry in our educational system. My kids, being racially mixed, should not be labeled as either “oppressed” or “privileged”. I want their identity to be based on their character not their skin color. This is nonsense and creates division rather than unity. I hope Mr Brooks and Ms Brown can help bring education back to academics rather than all these other ideologies, including spectrum of genders. What happened to math, reading. Writing, etc? The State is not the parent, we are the parents, and I believe parents of all races want to keep those boundaries clear. I hope Mr Allen and Ms Brown will get us back on track … academics not social engineering.

  8. Jinah yi 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I am a Korean immigrant parent and I 100% agree with Brenda’s comments about minorities being excluded and discriminated against by our state officials. Why were parents not told about this new gender definition? And why was input about this issue only available for English speaking parents? I do not want my kids learning this gender definition as scientific fact. Since when are “feelings” based on science? I hope these new appointees … Read More

    I am a Korean immigrant parent and I 100% agree with Brenda’s comments about minorities being excluded and discriminated against by our state officials. Why were parents not told about this new gender definition? And why was input about this issue only available for English speaking parents? I do not want my kids learning this gender definition as scientific fact. Since when are “feelings” based on science?

    I hope these new appointees of Gov Newsom realize that a parental revolt in Calif is on the rise. After seeing the gender curriculum such as the Amaze cartoon recommended by the CDE, I pulled my kids out of public school and am convinced more than ever, that School Choice are parents are the only hope for true equity and the preservation of parental rights.

    I have translated a lot of info for our Korean Communities, because Korean parents in Calif deserve to know what their children are being taught, especially when the content assaults their esteemed cultural familial values.

  9. Andrea T. 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Brenda, thank you for speaking out what many of us parents are thinking and have experienced in our own districts. I am a Latino parent and when I learned about the gender spectrum that the CDE had approved to teach our children, I was shocked! I was mostly shocked when I asked the principal at my school about it and he knew nothing about it. I tried to get answers from my district and realized … Read More

    Brenda, thank you for speaking out what many of us parents are thinking and have experienced in our own districts. I am a Latino parent and when I learned about the gender spectrum that the CDE had approved to teach our children, I was shocked! I was mostly shocked when I asked the principal at my school about it and he knew nothing about it. I tried to get answers from my district and realized they too did not understand all that the new gender spectrum entail.

    Parents, specially Spanish speaking parents, are still in the dark about this. I tried to educate my Spanish community about it and just as I was, they are shocked to learn what the CDE has approved. We are very disappointed at the lack of communication and transparency and we will not put up with it! We parents have rights and we will do whatever it takes to protect our children!

  10. Lisa Disbrow 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I applaud Brenda Lebsack’s comments as a Californian veteran bilingual public school educator. Parents have watched as their voices and values have been ignored and undermined by those who took as oath to serve our citizens. As a kindergarten teacher children need clarity not confusion. Confusion and adult-centric issues are disturbing to their concrete orientation. Sadly many in education and government have sacrificed children’s needs and capacities in order to provoke certain agendas that … Read More

    I applaud Brenda Lebsack’s comments as a Californian veteran bilingual public school educator.
    Parents have watched as their voices and values have been ignored and undermined by those who took as oath to serve our citizens.

    As a kindergarten teacher children need clarity not confusion. Confusion and adult-centric issues are disturbing to their concrete orientation. Sadly many in education and government have sacrificed children’s needs and capacities in order to provoke certain agendas that parents have never been allowed to vote on.

    It is my fervent hope that transparency and respect for parents rights will be restored in California public education.

  11. Mustafa Umar 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I’m an Imam representing the Muslim community and agree with Brenda wholeheartedly. It is dangerous to alienate parents and push an ideology on children. It is not in their best interest and society will suffer the consequences.

  12. Amy 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Agree with Brenda 100%. Stop the indoctrination, allow parental rights and focus on teaching without political agendas.

  13. Sandee 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I am a school board member in my area. I am counting on Mr. Allen to bring more transparency to parents and board menders about the difference between what is required by law to be taught in schools and curriculum/frameworks that districts are told are compliant with the law but go far beyond what the law actually requires. These curricula are really just an interpretation of what the law requires and are developed and recommended … Read More

    I am a school board member in my area. I am counting on Mr. Allen to bring more transparency to parents and board menders about the difference between what is required by law to be taught in schools and curriculum/frameworks that districts are told are compliant with the law but go far beyond what the law actually requires. These curricula are really just an interpretation of what the law requires and are developed and recommended by powerful lobbying groups with political agendas.

    As a board member, I am shocked that the CSBA did not inform the thousands of board members across the state of the new definition of gender. We need policy makers that understand how important it is to be upfront and honest with parents, trustees and the community. When the CDE recommends curriculum, it needs to realize that public schools will lose students if schools are not given reasonable curriculum choices. There needs to be a greater focus on preparing students to succeed in today’s job market. Social issues should never be prioritized over core subjects like math and writing skills.

  14. Ken 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Brenda is correct. The comments about the CA Healthy Youth Act are spot on and reflect moral relativism. We used to protect the innocence of children as well as protect the rights of parents to direct the upbringing of the children. Now that concept has been thrown out and disregarded

  15. Eric 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Brenda, great comment! I completely agree with you.

  16. Lesli 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I really hope you will bring back some common sense to our public schools and ensure parents are aware of what is being taught to our children. I was appalled at the sex ed material designed for elementary and jr high (anal, oral sex!). Just watched the 3R video Brenda mentioned above and that’s not okay either. The parents need to retain moral and non-academic education of our children. Thankfully I (along with 6 other … Read More

    I really hope you will bring back some common sense to our public schools and ensure parents are aware of what is being taught to our children. I was appalled at the sex ed material designed for elementary and jr high (anal, oral sex!).

    Just watched the 3R video Brenda mentioned above and that’s not okay either. The parents need to retain moral and non-academic education of our children. Thankfully I (along with 6 other kids we know) have pulled my family out of public school this year to homeschool. Was hoping to return next year but the state has been making it almost impossible to morally send our children to be indoctrinated with info where are family disagrees.

    Please stick to teaching the scholarly basics so public education can be inclusive and available to all.

  17. Gheorghe Rosca 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I couldn’t agree more with Brenda Lebsack. As a parent and immigrant to the USA, I was shocked when the California Office of Civil Rights denied my request for equal access to parents wanting to read and understand the California Health Framework in their native language. The hypocrisy is astounding!

  18. Jeff Camp 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This post is a good example of why EdSource matters. There’s been a change of key leadership. Nothing blew up — and that’s worth knowing and celebrating.

  19. Brenda Lebsack 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    As a teacher (health/PE/ Special Education) and former school board member in California, I am grateful Newsom is hiring Mr. Allen, who is a former civil rights attorney, to be a policy advisor in the area of education. We need someone like this to assure greater equity. As an educator, I see we have policies in place that are defying civil rights and breeding elitism. In 2018, former State Supt. Torlakson stated in a press … Read More

    As a teacher (health/PE/ Special Education) and former school board member in California, I am grateful Newsom is hiring Mr. Allen, who is a former civil rights attorney, to be a policy advisor in the area of education. We need someone like this to assure greater equity. As an educator, I see we have policies in place that are defying civil rights and breeding elitism. In 2018, former State Supt. Torlakson stated in a press release:
    https://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr18/yr18rel83.asp
    “The assumption underlying California policy is that gender is a spectrum.. State legislation allows… students, to self-certify to their chosen gender category of male, female, or nonbinary—starting on January 1, 2019.”
    This assumption underlying California policy is very significant, however. No one seems to know about it. As a SpEd teacher, I now see the “non-binary” category drop-down added to SEIS (SpEd Info Syst) for my students. This law (SB 179), that created this new category of gender “non-binary”, was passed in 2017 and endorsed by the teachers union (CTA), however most teachers and parents have no idea what this word means. Most think it means “transgender”, it does not. Transgender is “binary”…either male or female. The definition of gender identity was changed in California in July 2017… it means you can be male, female, both, neither, or something in between (on a spectrum)…..however no one was formally told about this changed definition. Parents were not told, teachers were not notified, and even board members (who make decision on educational policies) were not told.

    CSBA leadership have not felt it necessary to tell board members. CTA notified teachers in their March 2017 Educators Magazine, and that’s when I first learned about it, however (quite honestly) most teachers do not read their magazines. Now that this word is on my SEIS drop down, I am asking my district Superintendent to notify all parents of this new definition of gender.

    My district is 98% Hispanic. If a social construct has radically changed and is an underlying assumption of educational California policy, shouldn’t parents be told? It’s strange that the California Department of Ed is “educating” the children of this, but not the parents. Why? The CDE recommends the 3R curriculum during Distance Learning and here is one of the short videos explaining this to our elementary children https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i83VQIaDlQw#action=share
    Every parent in the state needs to watch this cartoon in their native tongue to be educated about this new “assumption of our California educational policies.” Why is the CDE teaching our children new concepts about gender without first formally informing parents, teachers, and decision makers? Is it because children are more trusting? More impressionable? More imaginative?

    In 2018, I asked the CDE to provide this new definition in Spanish, which was sandwiched into a 700 page Health Framework document, so our non-English speaking parents could participate in the community input process before the state board of education voted on it. However, the CDE (who “say” they value equitable access) said the document was only available in English. Therefore, our immigrant Spanish speaking population was excluded from the process. Honestly, if this is not elitist racism, I don’t know what is.

    Brooks Allen and Debra Brown, welcome aboard. I hope you can provide full transparency to all California constituents (not just English speaking ones) and fulfill Gov. Newsom, Sen. Leyva and Assemblyman O’Donnell’s ideals as they hypocritically reprimand charter schools to “empower parents, provide greater transparency, have fair and open access to information with ethical practices.”

    Shouldn’t this expectation and standard be for all public schools? https://www.dailybulletin.com/2019/03/05/new-california-law-holds-charter-schools-to-same-transparency-laws-as-other-public-schools/