RI Education Commissioner Wagner on track for new contract

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – It looks like Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner will be sticking around for a few more years.

The R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education has scheduled a vote for Tuesday to reappoint Wagner and authorize Chairman Daniel McConaghy to negotiate a new contract with the commissioner. In a statement, McConaghy suggested Wagner will get a three-year contract.

“In our evaluation of Ken’s performance, the council reached out to stakeholders in the community for feedback, and the response has been very positive, particularly when it comes to Ken’s collaborative approach to the challenges we face in education,” McConaghy said. “Ken understands the importance of building partnerships in order to support both students and teachers, and the Council wants to see those partnerships grow and deepen over the next three years.”

Wagner’s reappointment must be confirmed by the R.I. Board of Education.

Wagner, a former senior deputy commissioner of education in New York, was hired in 2015 to replace former Commissioner Deborah Gist, who is now the superintendent of schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has drawn praise from education leaders and state lawmakers for his emphasis on collaboration, but has faced criticism from the editorial board of The Providence Journal, which called his efforts to improve public schools “weak and timid” in a September editorial.

Since coming to Rhode Island, Wagner’s signature initiative was to create “empowerment schools” that were designed to give more autonomy to principals and teachers, but few schools have shown interest. He also helped guide the state through its plan to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which includes an ambitious goal of 75% of all students being proficient in math and English language arts by 2025. (Currently only 33% of students in grades three through eight are proficient in math and 40% are proficient in ELA.)

Wagner has faced little criticism from the state’s two teachers’ unions, although both organizations opposed his support for the expansion of the Achievement First Mayoral Academy in Providence.

McConaghy said Wagner “has set forth an ambitious and innovative vision for education,” making the case that his “emphasis on personalized pathways for students and shared leadership for educators is the right direction for our state.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan