Rhode Island’s Board of Education has unanimously confirmed Ken Wagner to lead the state department in charge of K-12 schools. Wagner has his work cut out for him when it comes to teachers. Many are hoping that he will reach out to them after they clashed with his predecessor.
Teachers union leaders are taking a wait and see approach. Board member Larry Purtill, president of one of the state’s two teachers’ unions, voted yes for Wagner.
“Because teachers have very little faith in the department of education in Rhode Island,” said Purtill. “Morale is low in many schools, and he needs to sit down with teachers and administrators and parents and really show that he’s listening, not just give lip service to it.”
Purtill does cite Wagner’s experience as a school psychologist and principal despite concerns he has never been a classroom teacher.
“I think it’s always great to have that experience, but again, the fact that he’s got education experience, has spent time in public schools, I’m happy with that,” said Purtill.
Purtill says he has urged Wagner to reach out to teachers, who felt ignored during debates over standardized testing and teacher evaluations.
He also hopes the former New York State Deputy Commissioner will shift the focus from test scores to poverty and inequality.
“Does every student have the same opportunity?” asked Purtill. “Are they getting art, music, advanced placement courses, preschool, all-day kindergarten? Those are the things we should be measuring rather than just one test score.”
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