Everything you should know about Rhode Island’s next education commissioner

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New Education Commissioner hired

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Angélica Infante-Green, a veteran New York educator with extensive experience developing programs for English language learners, has been tapped to serve as Rhode Island’s next commissioner of education, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday.

Infante-Green will replace Commissioner Ken Wagner, who is leaving the job to become a senior fellow for education policy and practice at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University. Her nomination must be approved by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.

So what should you know about the new commissioner? Here’s an overview.

She comes from New York.
Like Commissioner Wagner, Infante-Green comes from the New York State Education Department, where she most recently served as deputy commissioner of the office of P-12 instructional support. (Wagner was previously the deputy commissioner for education policy in New York.) She is the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and attended public school in New York City. She graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo before earning master’s degrees in both education and school administration and supervision from Mercy College. Her career path has taken her from teaching in the South Bronx with Teach for America to serving as director of the early childhood center at the George Washington High School Campus in Manhattan. She has also held various leadership posts overseeing English language learner (ELL) programs in the New York City Department of Education and the NYSED.

She is an expert on English language learners.
It’s no secret that Rhode Island is facing a crisis when it comes to the achievement gap between English language learners and students who aren’t enrolled in those programs. Last year’s RICAS results showed just 5.8% of the state’s ELL students were proficient in math compared to 30.3% for students who have never been involved in ELL courses. Infante-Green has spent the bulk of her career working to strengthen ELL programs in New York, including opening a middle school for Students with Interrupted/Inconsistent Formal Education (SIFE) and newly-arrived ELLs. She also helped author the state’s “Blueprint for English Language Learners’ Success.”

She has a personal connection to special education.
Infante-Green has a son on the autism spectrum, and she helped establish the first autism inclusion dual language program. She talked more about that in this interview:

She is viewed as an up-and-comer in national education circles.
Infante-Green was part of the first cohort of “Future Chiefs” identified by Chiefs for Change, the national nonprofit education advocacy group started by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. (Former Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was an early member of the group and Andrea Castañeda, another former state education official, was recognized as a future chief in the same cohort as Infante-Green.) Pedro Martinez, a Chiefs for Change board member and superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, issued a statement Monday saying “students and families in Rhode Island will benefit from Angélica’s extensive leadership experience and her dedication to strengthening all public schools.”

She was a finalist for the commissioner’s job in Massachusetts.
The latest round of underwhelming test scores in Rhode Island prompted state leaders to again begin discussing how the Ocean State’s education system could be more like the one in Massachusetts. Well, one way is to hire the people they like. Infante-Green was one of three finalists for the top education job in Massachusetts last year, although officials eventually tapped local educator Jeff Riley for the gig. Infante-Green’s experience with ELLs – the fastest-growing student group in Massachusetts (and Rhode Island) – was largely met with praise. In an op-ed for CommonWealth Magazine, philanthropist Aixa Beauchamp called Infante-Green the “right type of leader to move Massachusetts beyond the divisive rhetoric of the past toward a forward-looking plan to dramatically improve teaching and learning for all kids, with a laser focus on English Learners and other historically disadvantaged students.”

Some New York City activists wanted her to run the nation’s largest school system.
After Carmen Fariña announced plans to retire as the chancellor of New York City schools last year, more than 800 people signed a Change.org petition asking Mayor Bill De Blasio to consider Infante-Green for the position. The petition said Infante-Green is “a visionary in the field of education and has proven to be a leader capable of generating change and results for the most vulnerable population.” De Blasio eventually tapped Richard Carranza of Houston as chancellor.

She has the support of Rhode Island leaders.
The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education still has to meet next week to consider Infante-Green for the job, but there is little doubt she will be Rhode Island’s next commissioner. In state education circles, her name has been circulating as a potential successor to Wagner for several months. Governor Raimondo said “her passion for education and her commitment to equity as an educator, leader, Latina, and mother are unmatched, and I look forward to working with her to stay the course on a long-term, comprehensive education strategy that is focused on the needs of every student in Rhode Island.” Wagner said she is a “strong, smart, effective leader who is relentlessly focused on equity.” Daniel P. McConaghy, who chairs the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, said he is “eager to get her on board so that we can seize this moment, bring all stakeholders together and collectively improve outcomes for students and schools.” Outside of Rhode Island, former U.S. Education Secretary Dr. John B. King Jr. called her “a lifelong advocate for students and families in our public schools, particularly those who have been underserved.”

Implementation will be a key part of her job.
If the confirmation process goes as planned, the R.I. Department of Education expects Infante-Green to begin her new job on April 29. It won’t be easy. She comes to Rhode Island at a time when test scores are lagging and achievement gaps are wide. One advantage she may have is that Wagner and other state leaders have spent much of the last four years laying the groundwork for the future of education in Rhode Island, including the state’s policies under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. At the same time, Infante-Green will be confronted by some of the same challenges both Wagner and Gist struggled to address, particularly in Providence.

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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

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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