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Pugh chief of staff Tisha Edwards to leave administration to lead BridgeEDU

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's chief of staff is leaving the job less than five months after she started.

Former acting Baltimore schools CEO Tisha Edwards will depart the administration in mid-to-late May to become president of BridgeEDU, an organization that helps students transition from high school to college, the mayor's office said Friday.

Pugh said in a statement that Edwards has "strong leadership qualities and a passion for children that has prepared her for the position of President of BridgeEDU."

Edwards helped devise Pugh's transition strategy before being named chief of staff after the November election. She said she was "honored" to work for Pugh and the experience "deepened my commitment to our youth."

"As President of BridgeEDU, I look forward to bringing all of my professional experiences to supporting the national imperative of increasing college access and persistence rates," she said.  

BridgeEDU was founded by Wes Moore, the best-selling Baltimore author, educator and Army combat veteran who briefly considered a run for mayor last year. Moore has said BridgeEDU is helping more than 100 students transition from high school to college.

Moore announced this week he was named CEO of the New York-based Robin Hood Foundation that fights poverty by providing funding for schools, food pantries, job training centers and other programs. He starts the new job in July.

Edwards made $190,000 as Pugh's chief of staff. BridgeEDU raised $3.1 million in donations last year.

"As a Baltimorean, I am thankful for the service Tisha Edwards gave to our mayor and we are proud of this administration's momentum that Tisha was a part of," Moore said. "As the founder and chairman of BridgeEDU, I am ecstatic to welcome Tisha to our team as we continue our significant growth and helping our scholars make it to and through higher education."

Edwards currently manages the Mayor's Office and coordinates Pugh's public safety strategy. She has also been working on a restructuring of city government.

Prior to joining the Pugh administration, Edwards was vice president of corporate affairs for the J.S. Plank & D.M. DiCarlo Family Foundation. In addition to serving as interim schools CEO, she was chief of staff to former schools CEO Andres Alonso.

Edwards has been a senior adviser to Scott Plank's private real estate firm, War Horse. Plank is the brother of Kevin Plank, the Under Armour CEO and Port Covington developer. That massive project is underway in South Baltimore.

Edwards, along with former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith and former state Del. Pete Hammen, also led Pugh's transition.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun this year, Edwards detailed the administration's plans to create "transformation zones" in some of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods. Those areas would be flooded with services in an effort to reduce crime and poverty.

"We need to move away from crime just being about policing," Edwards said at the time. "When there's a murder, that's an employment problem. When there's a murder, that's an addiction problem. ... We're shifting the paradigm from policing being at the center of public safety."

Councilman Ed Reisinger of South Baltimore said he can't give Edwards "a performance evaluation," but he was disappointed to hear she was leaving.

"When I talked to her, it seemed like she enjoyed it and she seemed happy," Reisinger said. "If she decided she wanted to be chief of staff, you stay for the haul. It's been, what 120 days? I don't think it will make that much of a difference for Pugh. The chief of staff manages staff, but it's the mayor that directs the city."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she has a "high opinion of her as an education leader."

"She's a quiet, behind-the-scenes leader and very effective," Clarke said of Edwards. "I am sorry she is leaving, but I am glad for her. A teacher is a teacher is a teacher. I am glad she has landed in a place where she can make a difference in the lives of lots of young people."

Clarke said she is confident Pugh has strong leaders in Smith and Hammen and plenty of talent within City Hall to implement her vision.

"Tisha has helped launch the ship and now it's a matter of getting it at a steady speed," Clarke said.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, called Edwards an "amazing leader."

"I'm sad to learn of her departure from City Hall," he said. "However, for over 10 years I've consistently witnessed her passion for helping young people reach their fullest potential. She will be a transformative leader at BridgeEDU and I very much look forward to working with her in her new capacity."

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