EDITORIAL

Education chief search provides ‘big opportunity’

Posted 3/12/15

What qualities do you want to see in the next commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Education? What challenges facing our schools and students most need our attention? How should we move …

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EDITORIAL

Education chief search provides ‘big opportunity’

Posted

What qualities do you want to see in the next commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Education? What challenges facing our schools and students most need our attention? How should we move forward on a host of critical issues?

Those are the questions at the heart of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s series of listening sessions on the search for a successor to Deborah Gist, who will soon be leaving to become superintendent in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla.

The latest session was held last week at Cranston’s Park View Middle School, drawing approximately two-dozen participants. Those on hand came from school committees, city and town halls, non-profit organizations, classrooms and central offices. Cranston has a particularly strong presence, but the group well represented the state’s diversity and various communities.

“We have a big opportunity … and we have to get it right,” Raimondo said during the session. “We have a lot of folks who are depending on us … This is all about opportunity for the next generation.”

Whoever is nominated to become the next education commissioner will likely be among the most scrutinized picks of Raimondo’s tenure.

High-stakes testing – and the overall extent to which standardized testing is administered to students – remains a deeply controversial issue, and the subject of a battle being waged everywhere from Washington, D.C., to school board meetings across the nation. The achievement gap for minority students remains unacceptable, and is a stark reminder of how much work lies ahead. So, too, is the reality that many students complete their K-12 educational journey without the skills needed to succeed in higher education and in the 21st-century workforce.

Gist, during her time in the Ocean State, has often been a polarizing figure. Known nationally for her efforts as a reformer, she has frequently drawn the ire of teachers unions, particularly over evaluations, testing and charter schools. Among her top achievements have been securing $75 million in federal Race to the Top funding, implementing a new education funding formula and overseeing graduation rate improvements.

Gist departs at a crossroads for Rhode Island, with a new governor in office and significant fiscal challenges looming. Raimondo framed the selection as being about providing opportunity for the next generation, and she is right. It is also a chance for the governor to set a long-term course for educational policy in the state, and likely the best she’ll have.

Based on the discussion at last week’s listening session, it is clear an appetite exists for a new direction, or at least a new approach. We applaud Raimondo for welcoming the public to take part in the discussion. No selection for education commissioner will please all constituencies, but providing a seat at the table – and keeping an open door – will go a long way toward building trust.

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