Ken Wagner is Governor Gina Raimondo’s nomination for education commissioner. The post has been open since former commissioner Deborah Gist left for a job in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wagner comes to the Ocean State from the New York state education department.
Wagner got his start in education policy at age 18, when he was elected to a local school board in New York. Since then, his education career includes working as school psychologist and middle school principal.
Wagner comes to Rhode Island following a controversial tenure by Gist. Her support of high-stakes testing, and teacher evaluations left her unpopular with many in the education community.
Wagner said teacher evaluations can play an important role in education policy.
"The only purpose of teacher evaluations support teaching and learning," said Wagner. "So to the extent that something in teacher evaluations is supporting teaching and learning, I’m all for it. To the extent that it’s not we should take a look at it."
Charter schools have also risen to a major point of contention. Some local school officials say cities and towns cannot afford the costs of new charter schools. Advocates say the schools offer much needed education choices.
The General Assembly took up legislation restricting charter school growth, but the bills didn’t move forward.
Wagner says there is a place for charter schools in the Ocean State.
"The most important piece about all of our schools is that children have a high quality place to learn, and charters are just part of that mix," said Wagner. "You need to make sure you pick only the best charter schools, and you hold those charter schools accountable."
Raimondo made her announcement following a series of listening tours in which she solicited feedback from the students, parents and educators.
The Rhode Island council on Elementary and Secondary education and the Board of Education are expected to take up Wagner’s nomination next week. His confirmation requires their approval.
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