Sue Burr gets dual education role

In a twofer consistent with his frugality, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a key education adviser Thursday who will also serve as the new executive director of the State Board of Education. She is Sue Burr, a respected fixture in education for a quarter-century.

Burr, 57, is currently the executive director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. She will in effect work for two bosses, Brown and the State Board of Education, though neither she nor State Board

Sue Burr
Sue Burr

President Michael Kirst, who has known her for more than a decade, anticipates a conflict. The Board recommended her to the governor, Kirst said. “She will have a broad portfolio with an unusual and distinct role.”

Ever since Brown announced he was abolishing the Office of the Secretary of Education, both to save money and to simplify a convoluted system of authority over education, it’s been unclear who would provide regular advice on legislation and other daily education matters. Kirst was Brown’s campaign adviser and his first key appointment, but he lives in Palo Alto and has other commitments.

Both Kirst and Burr will giving advice to the governor. Burr will advise Brown on areas of education not under the authority of the State Board, including budget matters, student college readiness, teacher credentialing, early childhood education issues, and school construction, according to a press release from the governor’s office. She’ll be the chief administrator of the State Board, which oversees federal funds for K-12 education and has authority over policies relating to statewide testing, state standards, and instructional materials.

“Sue Burr has the experience, temperament and track record of success that makes her an excellent choice to fill the expanded role of Executive Director,” said Bill Lucia, president and CEO of the advocacy group EdVoice.

Before going to work for the superintendents association five years ago, Burr was the assistant superintendent for business services with the Elk Grove Unified School District, and the undersecretary of education under Gov. Gray Davis from 1999 to 2000, also serving as interim secretary for six months during that time. Burr was the co-director of the California State University Institute for Education Reform from 1995 to 1999, and, before that, a principal consultant for the Senate Education Committee, and for the Senate Appropriations Committee. She also is secretary of the board of the nonprofit group, EdSource.

In abolishing the $2 million, 11-person Office of the Secretary of Education, Brown increased the staff of the State Board by three positions, for a net savings of eight. Over the next few years, the State Board will focus on implementing the Common Core standards and new assessments and instructional guidelines, as well as revising the current state standards in the interim.

“This is wonderful opportunity at a moment in time when we have governor who is forward-thinking and a superintendent of public instruction who wants to work collaboratively to implement Common Core and (the work of) the new testing consortia,” Burr said.

Burr, who will be paid $175,000, said it is not clear to what extent Brown will ask her to speak on his behalf on education issues.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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