Monday’s vote of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recommending Jeff Riley as the next commissioner of education was a missed opportunity.
Angélica Infante-Green, who placed second in voting, would have brought fresh eyes to the areas of the Massachusetts education system that need help the most. Her specialties as one of New York state's top education officials included bringing increased equity to low-income children, children of color, differently-abled children and English language learners.
"We need the perspective of women -- and, in particular, women of color -- to bring context, fresh ideas and cultural diversity to the table. We must do better."Keri Rodrigues, founder of Massachusetts Parents United
In the 100-plus year history of the Department, there has never been a woman or person of color appointed as commissioner. Apart from Infante-Green’s record as an innovator, this was one of the reasons diverse organizations like Massachusetts Parents United had pushed for her selection.
Now, the Massachusetts Department of Education must take real steps to diversify its leadership and to bring in more women and people of color to more accurately reflect the teachers and students who make up our schools. We need the perspective of women — and, in particular, women of color — to bring context, fresh ideas and cultural diversity to the table. We must do better.
While we congratulate Jeff Riley in receiving the votes to become the next commissioner, organizations like ours will also be holding him accountable for closing the achievement gap, especially for Latino students.
Latinos represent a growing share of the Massachusetts student body, particularly in our "Gateway Cities" like Chelsea, Lawrence, Springfield and Holyoke. In Boston, Latinos make up more than 40 percent of our students, but only about 10 percent of teachers.
Social and language barriers contribute to those students producing the lowest graduation and highest dropout rates of all groups. Less than 20 percent of working-age Latinos in greater Boston have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 50 percent of non-Latinos, according to the Boston Foundation report.
The new commissioner must come prepared to respond to the multiple challenges facing the state’s schools, the most significant being the large achievement gap between white, more affluent students and Latino and Black students from lower-income households.
Riley will need to work collaboratively with parents and community members to bring about the changes needed to serve our children. His former position as receiver of Lawrence Public Schools is very different than the one he is about to take on.
We all need to be on the same team to ensure his success. So we must all do everything we can to renew our commitment to aggressively pursuing improvement until every child — regardless of gender, race or ZIP code — has access to the high-quality education we promise them.
Keri Rodrigues is founder of Massachusetts Parents United, an urban parent advocacy organization with more than 7,500 members.