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Leslie Cornfeld

Former Special Advisor , U.S. Secretary of Education

Leslie Cornfeld has devoted her career to advancing opportunity equity for the nation’s underserved populations through their schools, communities, justice systems, and unconventional allies with a focus on cities as agents of change. Most recently, she served in the Obama administration as special advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education overseeing public-private partnerships advancing education equity for the U.S. Department of Education and the White House. Prior to that, Ms. Cornfeld served for two terms as an advisor for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the areas of child welfare and safety, education and civic engagement, and previously was a federal prosecutor. She has been nationally recognized for designing and leading high-profile, cross-sector efforts to tackle pressing social and community challenges.

Beginning with her work for former Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-NY) in Washington, D.C., Ms. Cornfeld established a track record of impact in a variety of areas, targeting vulnerable populations. A Washington Post editorial praised the effort she led in New York City addressing disengaged, chronically absent youth as “an example of what’s possible,” and the United States. The Conference of Mayors similarly praised that effort as a “model for other cities.”

As a federal civil rights prosecutor, Ms. Cornfeld led a series of high-profile public corruption, police abuse, and human trafficking cases resulting in her twice receiving the U.S. Attorney General’s Director’s Award for outstanding performance. Prior to that she was appointed deputy chief counsel of the City of New York Commission to Investigate Allegations of Police Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Procedures of the Police Department (the “Mollen Commission”) where she helped develop and lead investigations of alleged police corruption, brutality, and system failures, which resulted in New York City’s creation of a permanent police oversight commission. She was a litigation associate at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and served as a law clerk to the Honorable Pierre N. Leval, SDNY (now U.S. Second Circuit).

Ms. Cornfeld has served as trustee for a number of nonprofit and other boards, including the Children’s Defense Fund for more than a decade; the Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior; The Dalton School; Hospital for Special Surgery; and is founder of a public speaking and advocacy program for East Harlem girls, Girls Speak!, where she continues to serve as a coach and mentor to a six-year cohort of young women.

Articles written by Ms. Cornfeld have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek, New York Law Journal, and Huffington Post. Her media appearances include national news shows on NBC, ABC, PBS, and others in the areas of civic engagement, education, and policing.