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Garth Harries to leave city for New Haven schools at end of year

The city official who is in the middle of reviewing the city’s special education programs will leave New York at the end of the month to take a top job at a Connecticut school system.

Garth Harries, a former McKinsey consultant who has worked with Chancellor Joel Klein since 2003, is scheduled to be appointed assistant superintendent by the New Haven Board of Education at a meeting tonight. The mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, has said he wants to improve the city’s public schools in similar ways to Mayor Bloomberg in New York City. Harries’ job is to flesh out the specific of how to transform the schools — and implement them, according to the New Haven Register.

Harries’s new position appears to be similar to the one he held in New York before he took over a review of special education, down to its title, “assistant superintendent for portfolio and performance management.” Until January, he headed the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Development, where he led efforts to create new schools.

Harries called the news “bittersweet” in an e-mail message he sent to special education advocates this morning. He said that New Haven began recruiting him just six weeks ago and said his decision was based in part on the proximity of the job to his wife’s farm in Connecticut.

Harries has been preparing for some time to take on added responsibilities in school leadership. In January, he launched the special education study, breaking up the portfolio office into smaller offices to do so. Harries also enrolled this year in the Broad Superintendents Academy, a program meant to turn educators and business leaders into reform-minded school administrators.

“Garth Harries has been a great leader, a thoughtful collaborator, and an invaluable member of our team,” Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said in a statement. “Garth will be missed here in New York City, but it is gratifying to know that the children of another urban district will benefit from his talent and commitment.” In his new position, Harries will supervise 49 schools that serve 20,000 students, Klein said.

Harries has endured some tough criticism here in New York. Advocates for children with special needs challenged his special education appointment, saying he lacked experience in the field. When the city’s top-ranking special education official announced that she would retire at the end of the school year, the department was quick to assure worried advocates that Harries would not be considered as her replacement.

Harries’s departure date means that he must complete his special education review by the end of this month. “I am personally and professionally committed to completing my recommendations before I start in New Haven on July 6th,” he wrote in his e-mail to advocates. He is set to present his recommendations next week to members of the teachers union.

Harries is the third top education official to leave at the end of the school year. In addition to Linda Wernikoff, the city’s special education chief, Marcia Lyles, the current deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, is moving on at the end of the month. Lyles was appointed superintendent of a small city school district in Delaware.

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