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Scott appoints Zoie Saunders as Vermont’s new secretary of education


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Zoie Saunders

Governor Phil Scott announced March 22 his appointment of Zoie Saunders to serve as Vermont’s next education secretary.

Saunders is an accomplished education leader with broad strategic and operational experience driving school improvement, increasing student outcomes and enrollment, closing service gaps, and optimizing school support services.

Currently, Saunders works as the chief strategy and innovation officer for Broward County Public Schools, the sixth largest school district in the country. In this role, she is responsible for aligning resources, maximizing facility usage, strengthening partnerships, and enhancing support services for 230 schools serving over 200,000 students. (There are currently 74,507 students enrolled K-12 in 288 schools across the state of Vermont, according to the Vermont Agency of Education.) Using a collaborative approach, Saunders has led discussions with community stakeholders to develop the goals and criteria for redefining the future of education in the county from an equity lens.

“I have always believed that, given our enormous investment and commitment, Vermont is capable of having the best education system in the country, serving students from cradle to career,” said Governor Scott. “Vermont’s education system is at a turning point, and it will take all of us — teachers, parents, administrators, school staff, community leaders, and — to work together to ensure we reach our full potential. Zoie’s exemplary resume, fresh perspective and impactful experience as a public school leader will be invaluable as we move forward. She has demonstrated a deep commitment to the success of students and the communities that schools serve. She will be a huge asset as we move forward, and I look forward to working with her and welcoming her and her family to Vermont.”

“I have devoted my career to expanding educational opportunities for underserved communities and believe in the power of education to drive positive community change and economic prosperity,” said Saunders. “It is my honor to serve as the secretary of education in a state with a strong tradition of prioritizing education and the needs of children. With leadership experience across multiple states and a background in community development, I understand that local context matters and commit to collaborating with Vermonters to advance the state’s education goals. On a personal level, I am a mom of two school-aged children and will work hard to advocate for policies that prepare students for success in school and life.”

For five years prior to her current role, Saunders served as the City of Fort Lauderdale’s first chief education officer. In this role, she designed and led a new division to enhance educational opportunities for 180,000 residents. She expanded workforce training programs by launching the Avionics Systems Technician Program, designing a public works training-to-employment pipeline, and increasing college accessibility for historically underserved communities. To address learning loss resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, Saunders extended afterschool and summer enrichment programs for 2,000 low-income children, resulting in improved literacy and skills development. Under her leadership, the city earned recognition for innovation in education and workforce development from Broward County Public Schools, the state of Florida, National League of Cities, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Previously, she was the vice president of strategy for Charter Schools USA. In this role, she oversaw enterprise-wide strategic planning, school improvement, accreditation, a $20 million grant portfolio, and operational improvements for 84 schools across seven states, serving 70,000 students. She successfully led cross-functional initiatives that resulted in 100% school grade improvement among target schools and a 475% increase in the proportion of schools meeting enrollment targets. To scale effective planning, she worked with principals and classroom teachers to develop a school improvement platform that enabled integrated goal setting, progress monitoring and predictive analytics.

As a research fellow at Vanderbilt University, Saunders consulted on Nashville Promise Neighborhood, an education reform initiative designed to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty through a continuum of family-centered services. Early in her career, she held nonprofit leadership roles at HospiceCare of Southeast Florida and Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center where she expanded access to pediatric health care and wrap around services.

Saunders has conducted research on effective human service delivery, cross-sector collaboration, parent education programs, community change and social/emotional learning curriculum. 

She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and Master of Education from Vanderbilt University.

Saunders replaces Interim Secretary Heather Bouchey, who will help with the leadership transition and serve as deputy secretary.

“I want to thank Heather for her tremendous work leading the Agency, and for her commitment to our state, its students, educators and communities,” said Governor Scott. “Her energy and passion have made her a valuable member of my Cabinet and she has been a tremendous teammate and leader.” 

Saunders will assume the role effective April 15.

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