Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is turning to Angélica Infante-Green – a one-time teacher in the South Bronx who was a finalist last year to become Massachusetts’ education commissioner – to take on the challenge of improving public education in Rhode Island.
Ken Wagner, whose intention to leave as education commissioner was first reported by The Public’s Radio in January, is set to become a senior fellow for education policy and practice at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.
Infante is the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. She currently serves as deputy commissioner of instructional support P-12 for the New York state Department of Education. If confirmed by two state education boards, the lifelong New Yorker would be the state’s first Latina education commissioner.
"Angélica's very passionate about education equity for low-income students, for students of color, for English learners," former New York state Education Commissioner John King told WBUR last year. "That passion comes across in all the work that she does to bring teachers and principals together around a vision."
Despite a years-long consensus that improving the state’s K-to-12 public schools is vital for Rhode Island’s economic future, local students continue to significantly under-perform their counterparts in Massachusetts – a point driven home by the most recent results on standardized tests. Even before that, a study found that Rhode Island was doing a poor job of preparing Latino students – a growing part of the state’s population for the future.
In a statement released by the governor’s office, Infante-Green said, "This is an important, exciting moment in Rhode Island education. The foundation is in place, and now we must have the courage and collective will to act boldly on behalf of all students. Rhode Islanders are demanding better for their kids and their futures, and that's what all of us want. I became a teacher because I saw firsthand the transformative power of education. Every child deserves the opportunity for a good education, and it is on us to ensure that all students are positioned for success."
According to the WBUR profile, Infante-Green is “an alumna of the Teach For America program and exhibits the missionary zeal that sometimes comes with that intense, early work experience.”
She began her education career as a teacher in the South Bronx.
Infante-Green was a senior official with New York state’s Department of Education when she led an initiative in 2014 to develop a blueprint for educating English-language learners.
Raimondo is set to welcome Infante-Green during a 10 a.m. Statehouse news conference on Tuesday.
According to the WBUR profile, “At a New America roundtable last year, Infante-Green described the plan as an attempt to envision a sea change in the way public schools serve English learners. At the moment, the American education system tends to approach English learners with ‘the most inappropriate tools,’ Infante-Green said.
“The proof, she argued, is in numbers ‘we see every day.’ Nationwide, English learners graduate less often and drop out more than almost any other large subgroup of students. And the population, taken as a whole, exhibits disproportionate levels of poverty and trauma compared to students of European descent.”
According to the governor’s office, Infante-Green holds an M.A. in education and in school administration and supervision from Mercy College. She has worked as an adjunct professor, and serves on Stanford University's Understanding Language Committee.
Infante-Green is a member of the Chiefs for Change's Future Chiefs prgram, “which was created to address the lack of practical preparation for the complex job of leading state and large urban school systems,” the group said. “The program identifies some of the most talented, diverse emerging leaders, integrates them into a community of practice with current chiefs, and gives them a set of experiences and preparation that will enable education systems to choose skilled, ready leaders.”
According to the governor’s office, Wagner will end his tenure as RI’s education commissioner on April 26.
In a statement, Raimondo said, “Ken came to Rhode Island at a time when our most important education stakeholders felt disconnected from one another, and the state lacked a clear understanding of the road ahead. Through a thoughtful approach to elevate student voices, empower families, and collaborate with educators, Ken brought stakeholders to the table to work together in meaningful ways. Ken helped us all to understand the levers we need to push on to improve teaching and learning, and his leadership positioned us to move forward on a long-term, comprehensive education strategy.”
Wagner became education commissioner in 2015, succeeding Deborah Gist, who left for a job in Oklahoma.
Raimondo’s office credited Wagner, in part, with presiding over “a comprehensive statewide facilities assessment that laid the foundation for a successful $250 million bond referendum to invest in the quality of our schools. The agency has also tripled enrollment in statewide pre-K and is an integral part of Governor Raimondo’s proposal for universal pre-K expansion.”
“I have been fortunate to work with an incredible team of people over the last three and a half years. Together, we have been able to create exciting new opportunities for students, to better support and invest in our teachers, and to distribute leadership so that each of us can understand the role we play in improving schools,” Wagner said in a statement. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done, and most of all I’m excited about the work that lies ahead. To dramatically improve education in our state, Rhode Island must stay the course on a long-haul journey, and I believe we will rise to the occasion to do just that.”