Jeff Riley Will Be Massachusetts' New Education Commissioner

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Jeff Riley, in a WBUR file photo (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Jeff Riley, in a WBUR file photo (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It's official: Jeff Riley will be the state's next education commissioner.

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 to recommend Riley for the post. Among his supporters, Education Sec. James Peyser, who will make the official appointment.

"Riley is probably the best choice for us at this time," Peyser said.

Riley has served as the state receiver supervising the turnaround of Lawrence Public Schools since 2012. He has won accolades in Massachusetts and beyond for his innovative management of the troubled system, which has experienced dramatic increases in graduation rates and some test scores.

But Board of Elementary and Secondary Education chair Paul Sagan cited intangibles as he declared his support for Riley. The various camps in education — charter school advocates, teachers' unions, and others — "have fought with each other too much without breaking the logjam" to help students.

Riley was willing to cross boundaries in Lawrence, committing to a "third way" in education reform: partnering with both the union and with charter managers to run particular schools. And so he has won loyalty in surprising places: board members representing both the teacher's unions and the business community declared their support for Riley early in Monday's meeting.

Three board members voted for New York State's Angélica Infante-Green. Finalist Penny Schwinn of Texas did not receive any votes.

Those supporting Infante-Green pointed to her experience with bilingual education, which several board members said would be useful in closing the achievement gap.

"We have a highly qualified Latina woman who meets all of our criteria, who has been put before us at a time when we're looking at some issues that fit, particularly, her skill set," said board member Margaret McKenna. "So it would seem to me that this opportunity is one we should not pass up."

McKenna also said she worried about the discussion of the strengths of in-state candidates versus out-of-state candidates.

"Oftentimes, when you come from outside, you bring with you a new look at what's happening inside," she added.

But speaking last of the board members, Sec. Peyser said that he believed local knowledge was an asset.

"The decision was not based on the fact that Jeff was a known quantity, not based on the fact that he lives nearby, not based on the fact that he would come to this board every quarter of so and we've gotten to know him over the months and the years," he said. "I think it's because he's the best candidate or the right candidate for this moment in time for the work that needs to be done."

This segment aired on January 30, 2018.


Headshot of Max Larkin

Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin was an education reporter for WBUR.



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