Harlem Children's Zone Leader Steps Down

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Geoffrey Canada, who turned the Harlem Children's Zone into a nationally recognized pipeline of pre-kindergarten through after-school programs serving thousands of children and adults, announced on Monday that he'll step down as chief executive officer this spring after more than 20 years.

Under his leadership, the Harlem Children's Zone attracted enough philanthropic support to expand to a nearly 100-block area and open its own charter schools. The White House offered competitive grants for communities to develop their own Promise Zones, based on Canada's work in Harlem. 

Spokesman Marty Lipp said Canada, 63, would continue as board president but otherwise was passing the reins to his chief operating officer, Anne Williams-Isom,  who will take over July 1. 

"I knew the biggest challenge was finding someone who could take this work to the next level," Canada said in a statement. "After an exhaustive national search over many years, Anne was the one person I found that had what's needed for this job: tough-minded leadership, dedication to our mission and the capacity to love thousands of kids."

An attorney who previously served with the city's Administration for Children's Services, Isom, 49, has been with the organization since 2009. 

"We want to prove to the country that this is not just a short-term thing, that being in these kids' lives and having a pipeline is long work," she said.

The Harlem Children's Zone points to numerous data points showing children who participate in its programs are more successful in school and in college, but others have questioned the numbers. Isom said she looks at data all the time, seeking ways to improve programs for younger children.

"My motto here has been getting it right for every single kid every single time" she said.

In taking over as C.E.O., she said she also wants to honor Canada's legacy, and that he will continue to serve as her advisor and mentor. "The best days are still yet to be seen," she said.