‘Chiefs for Change’ Names Newest Member Cohort, Includes Two Candidates from Tennessee

Chiefs for Change, a national education policy advocacy group has named its newest cohort of future members. Among them are Tennesseans Eve Carney of the Tennessee Department of Education and Hamilton County’s Deputy Superintendent, Sonia Stewart. The two are part of the organization’s seventh cohort of its Future Chiefs ​leadership development program.

Eve Carney, according to the Tennessee Department of Education’s organizational chart, serves as the Chief of Districts and Schools, despite the Chiefs for Change press release identifying her as Deputy Commissioner. Carney, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, joined the TDOE in 2014.

Sonia Stewart was previously with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). First as a principal for Pearl-Cohn Hogh School and then as the Executive Officer of Organizational Development. In 2020, she joined Hamilton County Schools as a Community Superintendent. After the departure of HCS’s superintendent Bryan Johnson, she rose to Deputy Superintendent.

Chiefs For Change was established in 2010 by former Florida governor and one-time Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush as a vehicle to promote his preferred education policies, including, but was limited to, Common Core State Standards, using test scores to evaluate teachers, A-to-F report cards for schools, expanding charter schools, and online learning.

Initially, membership consisted of just state school chiefs, but in the early part of the last decade membership was opened to add superintendents of large urban school systems, including those who run state-created districts focused on turning around low-performing schools. Tennessee’s last 3 State Education Superintendents – Kevin Huffman, Candice McQueen, and Penny Schwinn – have been Chiefs for Change members.

In 2015, the organization split from the Foundation for Excellence in Education, another Bush-created organization that funded Chiefs. Since that time, they have received over $5.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Chiefs have been a strong influence on recent Tennessee education policy initiatives, offering their services, alongside that of their “technical assistance partners”, pro-bono on the literacy bills and the changes to the state school funding model, TISA.

The Chiefs for Change noted that over the course of the program, Future Chiefs study systems management, shadow current chiefs, receive individual coaching, attend a variety of virtual and in-person sessions, and have access to intensive job search and placement supports. In addition, they are introduced to tools and guides that Chiefs for Change created to help systems meet students’ needs in the wake of the pandemic. The Future Chiefs program combines support from cohort peers with highly customized mentorship from former superintendents who serve as chiefs in residence, current systems leaders, and other experts.

Of the 51 leaders who made up the first six cohorts of the Future Chiefs program, 53 percent have become superintendents or state chiefs, including, in the last 18 months:

  • Maria Vazquez—Orange County Public Schools, Florida
  • Avis Williams—NOLA Public Schools, Louisiana
  • Heather Tow-Yick—Issaquah School District, Washington
  • Iranetta Wright—Cincinnati Public Schools, Ohio
  • Theresa Williams—Plano Independent School District, Texas
  • Thomas Taylor—Stafford County Public Schools, Virginia

Newly-inaugurated Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that she will nominate Future Chief’s alumnus Jacob Oliva to serve as the state’s secretary of education.

The complete Cohort 7 includes:

  • Eve Carney—Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Terry Connor—Deputy Superintendent, Hillsborough County Public Schools, Florida
  • Rick Cruz—Deputy Superintendent, Houston Independent School District, Texas
  • Lora de la Cruz—Deputy Superintendent, Boulder Valley School District, Colorado
  • Bren Elliott—Chief of School Improvement and Supports, District of Columbia Public Schools, Washington, D.C.
  • Devon Horton—Superintendent, Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Illinois
  • Keisha Scarlett—Assistant Superintendent of Academics, Seattle Public Schools, Washington
  • Sonia Stewart—Deputy Superintendent, Hamilton County Schools, Tennessee
  • Stacey Wilson-Norman—Chief Academic Officer, Cumberland County Schools, North Carolina

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected] He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.
Photo “Eve Carney” by Eve Carney.


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