Longtime Executive Director to Relinquish Role on June 30, 2015


865 PROVIDENCE – Warren Simmons, executive director of Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR) since 1998, will leave his post on June 30, 2015, it was announced today. The search for a successor is under way.

“Brown University and the Annenberg Institute have long been committed to advancing educational excellence, supporting innovation by U.S. school districts and evaluating programs to highlight best practices,” said Brown President Christina Paxson. “This is essential work of national importance, and I congratulate Dr. Simmons on his leadership and creative contributions. I look forward to working with Warren in his role as senior fellow."

His affiliation with AISR will continue as a senior fellow for two additional years, during which he will support his successor’s efforts and concentrate on building the Urban Philanthropists Network (UPN), a new national coalition of philanthropic, entertainment, sports, education, and investment organizations that help disadvantaged students enter and succeed in college in their respective local communities; and the emerging Education Justice Network, a Ford Foundation–supported effort to coordinate foundations, education organizations, and individuals focused on high-quality educational opportunity for all children.

Dr. Simmons, 63, will also remain as a faculty member in Brown’s Urban Education Policy program, a master’s-level curriculum dedicated to the study of policy analysis, planning, and development in urban public education.

At the time of his appointment, then–Brown University president E. Gordon Gee stated: “Time and again, Warren Simmons has skillfully led teachers, administrators, parents, and others through the challenging terrain of education reform. . . . [He brings] a concern for equity and a talent for implementing new initiatives by building consensus among a variety of constituencies. We are fortunate that he has accepted the offer to come to Providence and continue the crucial process of national school reform.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Simmons, AISR, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2013, has evolved into a national authority on urban public school reform whose practices and policies are grounded in equity and excellence. At the time, districts were seldom considered vital to educational improvement, except as a source of problems. Dr. Simmons convened School Communities that Work: A National Task Force on the Future of Urban Districts, which sharpened the nation’s focus on the need for systemic transformation in urban districts and introduced to the national education reform agenda the concept of a “smart district” – a high-performing community of schools that includes the district rather than dismantling it.

Informed by the task force, Dr. Simmons advanced the “smart district” concept to include partnerships with community agencies and organizations, forming a comprehensive web of learning supports and interventions called a “smart education system.” AISR focused on defining such a system and helping communities develop and strengthen their capacity to support schools and students. AISR has also worked to build local capacity and develop tools to help community organizations provide pressure and support for educational improvement.

To refine the concept of “smart education systems,” Dr. Simmons frequently convened more than a hundred education stakeholders from around the country in gatherings known as Emerging Knowledge Forums, characterized by former Public Education Network president Wendy Puriefoy as the place “where school reformers go to school.”

Prior to joining AISR, Dr. Simmons was the founding director of the Philadelphia Education Fund, a reform-support organization that helped the School District of Philadelphia to fund, develop, and implement new academic standards, content-based professional development, standards-based curriculum resources, and comprehensive school reform, as part of the Children Achieving reform agenda. 

Previously, at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, he developed and funded initiatives on community development and urban school reform. He also served as director of equity initiatives for the New Standards Project, a coalition of seventeen states and six school districts piloting the development of shared standards and assessments, and as special assistant to the Prince George’s County (Maryland) superintendent of schools, where he planned and/or implemented districtwide initiatives to improve the achievement of traditionally underserved students.

At Brown, Dr. Simmons and his AISR colleagues collaborated with the Education Department to establish the Urban Education Policy program, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair in Education and Policy, and most recently, the Ruth J. Simmons Urban Education Policy Scholarship.

An acknowledged national education leader, Dr. Simmons has served on multiple boards and advisory groups, including the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the National Center on Education and the Economy, the National Equity Project, the Aspen Urban Superintendents Network, the Merck Institute, Roger Williams University, the Public Education Network, the California Collaborative (an eleven-district superintendents’ network), the Southern Education Foundation, PLATO Learning, Inc., the Campaign for Educational Equity, and the Cowen Institute. In recognition of his national leadership he received the Distinguished Citizen’s Award from the National Governor’s Association in 2010.

He has also been an active leader in Rhode Island, chairing former governor Lincoln Almond’s Literacy in the Arts Task Force, and more recently, former governor Donald Carcieri’s Urban Education Task Force, along with the Education Opportunity Work Group, convened by current mayor Angel Taveras. Dr. Simmons also serves on the board of the College Crusade of Rhode Island and has led AISR’s support for reform efforts in Providence Public Schools and in Central Falls.

Dr. Simmons, a New York City native, earned a B.A. in Psychology from Macalester College, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Cornell University.