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After rocky year, DOE replaces head of family engagement office

After less than a year on the job, Ojeda Hall, the director of the troubled office that oversaw this year’s botched parent leader elections, is out.

The Department of Education announced today that Jesse Mojica, head policy analyst for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., will replace Hall as head of the Office of Family Information and Action next month.

The position is also being promoted, so that Mojica will also be a member of Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s cabinet of advisors. Mojica will make $138,000 a year, compared to Hall’s $115,000 annual salary.

Walcott’s decision to bring on board the education point person of a critic of the city’s education policies comes after a disastrous spring for the long-beleaguered family engagement office. Community Education Council elections were problematic from the start, and even on a delayed timetable elicited few candidates and votes.

Some parents charged that the botched election process symbolized of the Bloomberg administration’s dismissive attitude toward parent engagement.

Walcott also expressed dissatisfaction with the process, but was previously unwavering in his support for Hall. Today, Walcott praised Hall but said he hoped that changes at OFIA would improve the relationship between the DOE and public school parents.

“When I took the job as Chancellor, I made it clear that one of my priorities was to change the tone of the conversation and do a better job bringing families into the educational process,” Walcott said in a statement. “Over the past few months, I have spoken with so many parents and community organizations and congregations, and I’m excited by their enthusiasm and the work that we can do together.”

Hall took the job last September with expectations that she could remedy some of the office’s problems. At the same time, OFIA was renamed from the Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, signaling a shift in focus away from organizing parents to simply providing information to them.

Parent advocates who were frequent critics of OFIA under Hall’s tenure reacted to the news with measured optimism — but not hope for substantive policy changes.

“It can’t be any worse that it was,” said District 3 CEC member Noah Gotbaum. “It will be great to see what he does, but the bottom line is that the mayor calls the shots and they don’t want parents to be involved if it means we’re going to call into question their policies.”

A Bronx native who attended Xavier High School and New York University, Mojica has two children, one in public school. One of his children has autism, and Mojica has become known for his advocacy work on behalf of autistic children. As an appointee of Diaz’s predecessor, Mojica sat on the the city school board, called the Panel for Educational Policy, from 2004 to 2006. He will return to the board as a mayoral appointee in his new position.

For now, he said in a statement, his goal is to improve communications between public school families and his office.

“There are so many families who want to partner with us in our efforts, but often times they don’t know where to start,” Mojica said. “My goal will be to strengthen those relationships on behalf of our students.”

Mojica will make his debut to parents during a department meeting in Prospect Heights tonight but does not officially begin at OFIA until next month.