One of the Department of Education’s longest-serving top deputies is leaving — but he won’t be going far.
The city announced late Monday that Michael Best, the department’s chief lawyer since 2004, would return to City Hall, where he was a top deputy to Mayor Bloomberg at the beginning of the mayor’s tenure. Now, he will be counselor to the mayor, a position that is being vacated by the new pick for president of New York Law School.
Best’s replacement at the DOE, Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, has been at the department for more than half a decade. Chancellor Dennis Walcott promoted her to become Best’s second in command last May during a slew of leadership appointments a month into his tenure.
According to the city’s press release, Best and Jackson-Chase worked together on efforts to close the “rubber room” for teachers who were removed from the classroom after being accused of misconduct and to streamline disciplinary hearings for department employees.
State officials have cited the city’s teacher discipline timeline as a model as they work to shorten hearings in other districts. But news reports in recent weeks have suggested that the process has not been perfected and that the city has assigned several teachers to desk duty after courts ruled that the teachers could not be fired even though they were found guilty of misconduct.
Figuring out how to clear those teachers from the department’s roster and improve the department’s image after a spate of abuse cases is likely to be at the top of Jackson-Chase’s agenda. She is also working on the department’s new social media policy, which is being developed to limit online communications between teachers and students in the wake of the abuse cases.
The city’s press release about the leadership change is below.
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES THAT DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION GENERAL COUNSEL MICHAEL BEST WILL RETURN TO CITY HALL AS COUNSELOR TO THE MAYOR Chancellor Walcott Appoints Senior Advisor to the Chancellor Courtenaye Jackson-Chase General Counsel – She Previously Served as Deputy General Counsel Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced that New York City Department of Education General Counsel Michael Best, who served as Deputy Counsel to the Mayor in Mayor Bloomberg’s first term, will return to City Hall’s bullpen as Counselor to the Mayor. Best will replace Anthony W. Crowell, who will become Dean and President of New York Law School in May. At the same time, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott announced that his Senior Advisor, Courtenaye Jackson-Chase, will replace Best as the Department of Education’s General Counsel. When I was first getting my feet planted in government, I quickly realized that Mike Best’s deep understanding of how the City really works was an invaluable resource, said Mayor Bloomberg. His smart, savvy advice was instrumental in some of our Administrations earliest successes, and I’m excited to have him return as we keep building on everything we’ve accomplished since then. While I am sorry to see Mike go next door to City Hall, Courtenaye’s keen analytical eye and excellent advice have served the students of this city, their parents and me extraordinarily well, said Chancellor Walcott. I know that she will continue to excel as she takes on this newest challenge for us. Serving in Mayor Bloomberg’s Administration is a tremendous privilege, and I am deeply honored that the Mayor has asked me to become his Counselor in City Hall, said Best. I am grateful to Chancellor Walcott and former Chancellor Klein for letting me play a part in improving the City’s schools, and I am excited for the opportunity to advise the Mayor in a new capacity. I am extremely honored to serve Chancellor Walcott in this capacity and am truly grateful for this great new opportunity to help make sure our 1.1 million students are given the best possible learning environments, said Jackson-Chase. And I’m very grateful to Mike Best for leaving such a solid foundation in the General Counsel’s Office to build on. Early in their legal careers, Best and Jackson-Chase worked as Assistant District Attorneys in Manhattan, where they collaborated on cases involving major crimes and long-term investigations. At the Department of Education, they worked especially closely together during the negotiations that led to the end of rubber room assignments for teachers in 2010. Best began his service with City government as a New York City Urban Fellow in 1987, and after completing law school he served as a law clerk for Judge Thomas P. Griesa of the Southern District of New York. He later served as General Counsel to Mayor Giuliani’s Criminal Justice Coordinator Steven Fishner and directed Mayor Giuliani’s Office of Contracts. Appointed Deputy Counsel to Mayor Bloomberg in 2002, Best was hired by Chancellor Joel Klein to be the General Counsel to the New York City Department of Education in 2004 after Best served as General Counsel to the New York City Host Committee for the Republican National Convention. At the Department of Education, Best has played key roles in reauthorizing mayoral control of the schools and lifting the cap on charter schools to secure Federal Race to the Top funding. Best has managed the Department’s legal, discipline, labor relations, audits, investigations, compliance, equal opportunity and ethics offices. His support for key Department initiatives has included creation of a Special Education Unit to handle tuition reimbursement litigation and advise the Department on special education reform strategies, a Compliance Services Unit to assist school principals in handling critical legal mandates, and a Teacher Performance Unit to handle cases involving ineffective teachers. In 2009, Harvard Law School named Best a Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow, and in 2010, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo presented Best with the Dorothy Marie Miner Award for outstanding service as counsel to an agency. Best received his Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, from Williams College and his J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School As Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, Jackson-Chase works closely with Chancellor Walcott to coordinate the work of his leadership team. Her responsibilities also include advising the Chancellor and General Counsel on compliance strategy, regulatory issues and interagency coordination. As the chief deputy to Best for five years, she was responsible for oversight of the legal, compliance, disciplinary and investigative units of the Office of the General Counsel. Ms. Jackson-Chase was one of the core team members responsible for developing the Department’s compliance services program, which provides support to schools while ensuring key mandates are met. She was also instrumental in reducing the length of time of the Department’s investigations and disciplinary hearings. While serving as General Counsel, Ms. Jackson-Chase will continue to work on key policy initiatives for the Chancellor, including the Department’s first social media policy. Jackson-Chase attended New York City public schools and later earned a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University and her J.D. from the Hofstra University School of Law.