Gov. Gina Raimondo picked the right man for Rhode Island’s top education job with her selection of Ken Wagner. Wagner brings with him years of school-based experience that give him a unique perspective. He’s smart and forward-thinking but also mild-mannered and willing to hear all sides. He has experience with high-quality curriculum and leading a school system far larger than Rhode Island’s.
Curriculum modules from EngageNY.org, the resource website Wagner developed and coordinated, have been downloaded more than 24 million times by educators across the nation, including thousands right here in Rhode Island. Wagner’s commitment to free access to high-quality resources for all teachers has ensured that millions of students across the nation are on the road to meeting the higher standards set for them, and he remains steadfast in his commitment to making sure that teachers have the tools they need to help students succeed.
As a policy leader in New York—which has been rife with conflict and political turmoil—he has maintained his reputation among all stakeholders as a strong, committed educational leader who is steadfast in putting students first.
But perhaps the most promising thing about Wagner’s appointment as Rhode Island’s new education commissioner is the reaction from stakeholders in New York, the state he departs from in order to join us here in the Ocean State. The teachers union, the school superintendents, the statewide Parents Teachers Association and other groups have all praised him as someone willing to listen to opposing views. Even when they disagreed with his strategies, they’ve said Wagner “remained fully accessible, committed to true family engagement and determined to maintain productive communication.”
A man like that is just what Rhode Island’s educational landscape needs at the moment: someone who can navigate tricky political waters while still tacking forward to improve outcomes for students. Some may occasionally disagree with his strategies, but his motives are crystal clear: educating students the way they deserve to be educated. Indeed, the constant throughout Wagner’s career has been his unwavering commitment to improving young people’s lives by making sure that they get the best education possible.
My guess is that Wagner will actually feel quite at home here in the political waters of Rhode Island.
As with all principled leaders, he will face naysayers and critics. They’re a reality for political appointees in the world of education policy. But they’re far off the mark.
As the executive director of the New York State PTA said, “New York will be losing a true friend and partner.” New York’s loss is Rhode Island’s gain.
Ken Wagner is the right leader at the right time for Rhode Island’s students and, as the mother of three young boys, I’m grateful that he’s here.