Gov. Nathan Deal's top education adviser is leaving her post for the private sector, and her first gig is to help Atlanta's school system fend off his biggest education initiative.
Hames, Deal's deputy chief of staff for policy and legislative affairs, is the architect of the governor's pitch for a statewide "Opportunity School District." The proposal, Deal's signature 2015 legislative effort, would give the state the power to seize control of failing schools, convert them into charters or shut them down. It must be approved by a majority of voters in 2016 before it takes effect.
APS has plenty at stake if the program becomes law. Some 27 APS schools are eligible for takeover.
Hames is a former middle school teacher who joined Gov. Sonny Perdue's staff as education policy adviser after graduating from law school. She stayed on with Deal's team after his election, rising quickly to become one of his top policy aides.
The school takeover bill was one of her greatest challenges, as it needed two-thirds majorities in both chambers to reach next year's ballot. Through a mix of carrots and sticks, Deal and his aides were able to cajole enough Democrats to cross party lines to pass muster. And Hames, at the center of the fight, often told skeptical lawmakers that the ultimate goal was to improve struggling schools so there was no need for the district.
Deal said in a statement Hames was "the right person at the right time for my administration" and that she played a key role in developing his agenda the last five years.
“This move will allow her to focus her full attention on improving classroom outcomes so that every child has access to a great education, and it will allow organizations that share her vision to also benefit from her talents," said Deal. "I’m glad that the governor’s office will continue to be one of those organizations benefiting from her expertise and work ethic."
She is the latest in a string of high-profile staff members to leave the office after Deal's 2014 re-election. Bart Gobeil, Deal's chief operating officer, left for a job with the Georgia Ports Authority earlier this summer. And Deal messaging maestro Brian Robinson will depart on Friday for the private sector.