Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has announced the appointment of Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons as Virginia’s 27th superintendent of public instruction. The move comes as Coons was recently named a finalist for the job of Nebraska’s State Superintendent of Schools. Coons’ appointment is effective April 17, with Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera touting her as a welcome addition to the team.

“Dr. Coons’ proven leadership will serve Virginia’s students, families and teachers well and help make Virginia’s education system best-in-class,” Guidera said. “She has demonstrated success in addressing learning loss, creating and implementing evidence-based literacy policy and practices, and building strong partnerships with teachers, communities, school and division leaders, and parents.”

During her tenure in Tennessee, Coons served in a multitude of roles, most recently she was chief academic officer for the Tennessee Department of Education, where she led all birth to grade-12 academic programming, including K-12 teaching, learning in language arts, mathematics, science, fine arts, early childhood education, voluntary pre-K, and Head Start.

Virginia’s previous superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, announced her resignation on March 1. Yongkin appointed Balow last January after she served two terms as Wyoming’s state superintendent.

During Balow’s short tenure, the state education department came under fire for errors in its redrafting of K-12 history standards and for miscalculating how much education funding localities would receive from the state.

Furthermore, the Virginia Department of Education (VDE) has been criticized for its issuance, at Yongkin’s direction, of “model policies” that would limit the rights of transgender students in Virginia schools.

Despite her resignation, Barlow will continue to serve as a consultant to the governor.

In accepting the position in Virginia, Coons becomes the latest member of Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn’s executive team to leave. Last month, Charlie Buffalino, the assistant commissioner of Policy & Legislative Affairs for the Tennessee Department of Education, announced that he was joining the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as senior director of State Advocacy and Support. In fall of 2022, after moving to Tennessee from California the previous year, Rachael Maves, Tennessee’s state chief of preparation and performance, left the TDOE to join the BARR Center as its chief operating officer.

Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) Executive Director JC Bowman told The Tennessee Star via email that “Lisa Coons departure further thins the ranks of the already depleted Tennessee Department of Education. We wish her well in Virginia.”

Schwinn did not respond to The Star’s attempt to get a comment about Coon’s departure. However, she offered Coons congratulations via Twitter, saying, “Proud and thrilled are not strong enough words to use as we celebrate @lisacoons10 appointment in Virginia! Lisa’s been an incredible member of our cabinet, an advocate for kids, and my dear friend. Go get ‘em Lisa!!!

Yongkin secured his governorship by making education and parental rights key planks in his platform. As governor, he has worked hard to make good on his campaign promises. In an August 2022 Op-ed piece for the Washington Post, Guidera voiced Yongkin’s commitment to K-12 education by listing the historic investments he had made:

“Those historic investments included: a 10 percent salary increase and $1,000 bonus for every teacher to attract, grow and retain quality teachers; fully funding the bipartisan Virginia Literacy Act, which will transform the training, tools and teaching of reading based on evidence; and allocating $1.25 billion through a combination of grants and school construction loans to provide secure and vibrant educational environments for Virginia’s children. To keep campuses and schools safe, Youngkin increased the $4.7 million School Resource Officer Incentive Grants program by $22.5 million each year, bolstering this important program more than fivefold — supporting 350 new school resource officers; providing additional security funding for our Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and authorized an investigation into Loudoun County Public Schools’ mishandling of sexual assault incidents.”

In accepting the position, Coons voiced recognition of the commitment made by Yongkin to the students and families of Virginia.

“I am honored that Governor Yongkin has selected me to serve as Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction in collaboration with Secretary Guidera,” Coons said. “The governor has set a bold academic agenda that puts students first and empowers families to help set priorities for their children. We have an opportunity in Virginia to be the country’s best state for education, and we’ll achieve that vision through partnerships with families, educators and school division leaders.”

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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 “Lisa Coons” by Lisa Coons. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.