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NYC’s deputy chancellor of early childhood education stepping down after difficult tenure

Dr. Kara Ahmed poses in a classroom at a Lyfe program site located in the Bronx Regional Campus Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Barry Williams for ˵Ӱ)
Dr. Kara Ahmed poses in a classroom at a Lyfe program site located in the Bronx Regional Campus Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Barry Williams for ˵Ӱ)
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New York City’s head of early childhood education is out after a tenure pockmarked by backlash to 3-K budget cuts and workplace tensions.

Deputy Chancellor announced in a Microsoft Teams meeting and an email to staff Tuesday, both obtained by the Daily News, that she’s leaving the city’s Department of Education for a job in national early childhood education. Shortly after, Chancellor Banks confirmed her departure in a statement to the press.

“Dr. Kara Ahmed has been with me since Day 1 of this administration,” Banks said, “and I am immensely grateful to her for her service, dedication, and unparalleled passion for high-quality, equitable Early Childhood Education.

“She immediately rolled up her sleeves to both stabilize and strengthen this critically important and incredibly complex body of work,” he added.

Schools Chancellor David Banks in Brooklyn on Friday April 5, 2024. (Theodore Parisienne for ˵Ӱ)
Schools Chancellor David Banks is pictured in Brooklyn on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Theodore Parisienne for ˵Ӱ)

In Nov. 2022, Ahmed was believed to be the first deputy chancellor to prompt a by the city’s powerful teachers union. The official faced backlash for a series of problems with the early childhood system, including delayed payments to child care providers, a reshuffling of social workers and instructional coordinators, and the switch to a more rigid curriculum.

Those difficulties created a rift with some administrators and staff, and drove others to leave their jobs or retire — including Kathy McCullagh, 65, who supervised instructional coordinators in the southern part of Brooklyn.

“There were personal considerations, but I also felt that the direction the division was moving in was not aligned with what I believed was good for children and educators,” McCullagh said of her departure before the last school year. She described the upheaval in the time since as having her staff “running like hamsters in a wheel.”

Banks and Ahmed have insisted that many of the division’s shortcomings were inherited from the prior administration, which stood up the city’s popular 3-K program with temporary pandemic aid from the federal government.

Mayor Adams and the City Council recently reached a budget deal that will backfill some of those dollars for a year with city funding and invest in child care for some of the city’s most marginalized young children, including preschoolers with disabilities and infants and toddlers whose families are undocumented.

The restorations left a $150 million funding gap that elected officials said was necessary to right-size the early childhood system, as 3-K seats remain vacant in some areas of the city while program waitlists proliferate in others. But the city has repeatedly declined to release that could bolster — or dispute — that claim.

Banks on Tuesday credited Ahmed with removing barriers and delays to provider payments, shifting over 7,000 seats to parts of the city and sector with higher demand, and creating more than 800 special education pre-K seats. Ahmed also assisted with the , which established a uniform reading curriculum in 90% of early childhood programs.

Dr. Kara H. Ahmed poses for a portrait in a classroom at a LYFE program site located in the Bronx Regional Campus Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Barry Williams for ˵Ӱ)
Dr. Kara Ahmed. (Barry Williams for ˵Ӱ)

Ahmed will start in September as president of the , a national web of 25 childcare centers for kids ages 0 to 5 with a large presence in the Midwest, according to a network . Her predecessor’s salary topped , according to a ProPublica analysis of nonprofit data.

In Ahmed’s memo to staff, she said the decision to leave the city’s Department of Education was “incredibly difficult for me to make.”

“While I am profoundly honored and humbled to have been asked to serve in this capacity, this transition is not without sadness after having the privilege to serve the children of New York City for the last 16 years, both as a principal and as Deputy Chancellor,” she said.

“The work we have accomplished together, all in service to children and in partnership with their families, has created the necessary foundation to stabilize, strengthen, and sustain our early childhood education system.”

Ahmed’s departure is the latest in a series of recent shake-ups in the Department of Education’s highest ranks. On Monday, Banks tapped his former chief of staff Melissa Aviles-Ramos as his next deputy chancellor of family engagement and external affairs. She will replace Kenita Lloyd, who is switching roles to Banks’ right-hand.

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