The Kentucky Department of Education named a former New York charter school official as its new general counsel, according to a news release Monday.
Deanna Durrett, a Louisville native, will take over a top job in the department on Aug. 16, the release said. As general counsel, Durrett will oversee the KDE’s legal team and provide legal advice to the Kentucky Board of Education. She’ll make $115,000 a year, according to a KDE spokeswoman.
Durrett spent the last six years working for Success Academy Charter Schools, New York’s largest charter school network, according to her LinkedIn profile.
She began her career in various legal roles before eventually joining Success Academy and rising to the chief of staff position where her job was to “ensure the smooth functioning of the organization, the achievement of organizational goals and the scaling to 100 schools,” according to the Success Academy website, where, as of Tuesday, she was still listed as chief of staff.
Prior to that, Durrett was a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice for three years, her LinkedIn profile states.
In the role, she “represented federal agencies in federal district court litigation against constitutional challenges to federal statutes and suits to overturn government policies and programs,” the KDE release said.
A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Durrett doesn’t appear to have worked in the Kentucky legal system, based on information on Linkedin and in the KDE release. She became a member of the Kentucky Bar Association in January 2017, according to KBA’s website.
“What excites me most about Deanna is her commitment to significant improvement in learning outcomes for our most vulnerable children,” Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said in the release.
“Her current employer, Success Academy, has been at the forefront of showing what is possible in public schooling in New York City, especially for low-income children of color. Her experience in key legal and leadership roles at Success Academy will be a tremendous asset to KDE’s senior leadership team, our legal office and the broader work of the agency,” Lewis said.
Success Academy parents have had mixed emotions about the network’s schools, according to news reports from the time Durrett was chief of staff.
In 2016, the families of 13 students filed a federal complaint against the network, alleging that special needs students weren’t being granted appropriate accommodations. Around the same time, an editorial on Huffington Post called “Success Academy’s War Against Children” alleged that the network “systemically terrorizes” children.
But other parents disagreed and spoke of positive experiences with the network.
“One mother recounted how a teacher called her at 9 p.m. to tell her that her daughter was ‘a joy to have in class,’ ” a 2015 New York Times story said.
Nearly a year later, Durrett moved back to Louisville when her husband was transferred here, a Success Academy spokeswoman said. She divided her time between Kentucky and New York, continuing to work as chief of staff.
To accurately file taxes, Success Academy had to register as an organization with the Kentucky Secretary of State, the spokeswoman said. Some people who follow education, however, raised concerns that Success Academy had registered in Kentucky using Durrett’s address but named a different registered agent, a payroll director with Success Academy. The spokeswoman with the network said it is a routine thing for remote workers.
All of the network’s schools are based in New York, the spokeswoman told Insider.
“I am honored to join Commissioner Lewis’ leadership team at KDE,” Durrett said in the release. “At Success Academy, I have seen excellent schooling and what is possible in public education, and I am excited to bring my experiences to bear in working for the children of Kentucky.”
Durrett’s hire comes nearly two months after former general counsel Kevin Brown resigned from the position after nine years with the KDE legal team. Brown’s resignation letter, along with an examination of his email correspondence via an open records request, gave no details about why he left the spot.
A KDE spokeswoman said Durrett’s hire will not impact the upcoming JCPS hearing, which is expected in late summer or early fall.
As legal counsel for KBE, the general counsel would typically represent the board in state management-related hearings, like the one expected for JCPS. However, after Brown’s departure, then-interim general counsel Todd Allen said in a KBE meeting that no one on the team would be able to represent the board in the JCPS hearing, and special counsel was hired.