DOWNTOWN Former Santa Monica-Malibu Superintendent John Deasy on Tuesday was named the deputy director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, officials with the nonprofit said.

Deasy, who left the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in 2006, is currently superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, where he has earned a national reputation for his leadership in significantly narrowing the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and their peers.

“John put a strong plan in place and gained the trust of teachers, parents and the community, producing real results for all students,” said Vicki L. Phillips, director of the foundation’s education division. “Today, when nearly half of African-American and Hispanic students fail to graduate high school, we’re eager to take what he has learned and accomplished in Prince George’s County and continue to help students all across the country prepare for college.”

Deasy’s departure comes shortly after the school board launched an investigation regarding Deasy’s doctoral degree from the University of Louisville in Kentucky. It was reported that Deasy was awarded a doctorate of philosophy at the university in 2004, even though he only completed nine credit hours at the school.

The school’s dean at the time was Robert Felner, who resigned in June and is currently under investigation for allegedly misappropriating a $649,000 grant. Felner reportedly oversaw Deasy’s doctoral dissertation.

Two years before Deasy received the doctorate the SMMUSD awarded a contract to Felner’s organization, the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy, to conduct surveys in Deasy’s school district for $125,000 per year, according to reports.

In his new position with the foundation, Deasy will focus on promoting policies and practices throughout the country designed to ensure that all students graduate high school with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college. Since 2000, the foundation has invested $2 billion in innovative school models and districts’ efforts toward its goal of increasing graduation and college readiness rates. He is expected to begin work at the foundation on Feb. 1, 2009.

“At the heart of the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a fundamental belief that every young person in our country can and should be given the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Deasy said. “I’ve been honored to work with the Prince George’s County Board of Education and with extraordinary young people, parents and teachers. I believe that through strong policies, leadership and accountability other districts can see significant achievement gains and more young people succeeding.”

As superintendent of Prince Georges County Public Schools, the nation’s 18th largest school district, Deasy moved quickly to institute a series of Children Come First initiatives to strengthen teaching and learning beginning in 2006.

The Board of Education set a foundation for equity by developing policies to ensure that district improvements focused on boosting school and district accountability and expanding access to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses in high schools.

In 2008, the district saw large achievement gains across all grade levels and all major race and ethnic groups, with particularly dramatic gains among English Language Learners, low-income and special education students.

From 2007 to 2008, Prince George’s County doubled the number of schools in which 80 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in reading and math on the Maryland state exam.

“For the Prince George’s County Board of Education, it is bittersweet to lose an effective superintendent but we see his move to a national level as validation of the tremendous achievements of our school district,” said Board Chair Verjeana M. Jacobs, Esq. “When elected, this Board recognized the historic inequities in our county’s schools and has since codified our commitments in policy to make equitable investments and close gaps in achievement between schools and students.

“We are grateful for the passion and energy that Dr. John Deasy brought to making improvements in teaching and learning for all students regardless of their backgrounds or where they live,” Jacobs added. “Our school system is poised to serve as a national model for improvement in large urban systems.”

Deasy is also well known for presenting a pilot pay-for-performance plan that was approved by the Board of Education and developed jointly with labor, making the district a leader nationally in efforts to reward its teachers for gains in student achievement. The plan had strong support of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association.

Before coming to SMMUSD, Deasy served as superintendent of Coventry Public Schools in Rhode Island. In all three districts, he championed fair teacher and administrator evaluations, pay-for-performance, staff development and training, and data-based decision-making.

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