Ken Wagner to Lead Rhode Island Department of Education


Ken Wagner has been nominated and unanimously confirmed to lead the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Governor Gina Raimondo announced Wagner as her choice to run the Department of Education last week during a conference at the Rhode Island State House. Wagner, who is currently serving the New York Department of Education as the Deputy Commissioner of Education Policy, says he came to Rhode Island because the state is spending more money on education compared to the rest of the nation, reports Linda Borg for Providence Journal.

Raimondo says that her nomination specifically meets the needs of the people. They have told her that they want someone who can listen, collaborate, inspire and innovate. She feels Wagner fits the bill.

“He grew up in a family of modest means,” she said. “He told me that his teachers made a big impact on him. He is always focused on bringing people together. What we need is a uniter. He is a workhorse not a show horse.”

Wagner has a long history of working in education. While in high school, he was elected to his local school board. He has worked as a school psychologist and served as principal at a middle school in the Shore-Wading River School District for two years, with one more there as the school’s Director of Administrative Services. He moved on to work at Eastern Suffolk BOCES and eventually the New York State Department of Education, reports Joseph Pinciaro of Riverhead News-Review.

During the seven years he served in NYSED, he worked as Senior Deputy Commissioner for Education Policy after being promoted from data director. He was a leader in the development of EngageNY, a program that provides guidelines and materials to teachers implementing Common Core standards.

Wagner will have to prove himself to the state’s skeptical K-12 teachers. Many are hoping he will reach out following a rocky relationship with Wagner’s predecessor Deborah Gist, according to Elisabeth Harrison for Rhode Island Public Radio.

“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.”

Although Wagner does not have experience teaching in the classroom, board member Larry Purtill, who is also president of one of the state’s teachers unions, says he is pleased that Wagner has worked in public schools as both a principal and psychologist.

Purtill and the teachers hope that Wagner reaches out, as they felt ignored by the previous administration. They also hope that he refocuses education reform from test scores to poverty and inequality.

“Ken is a collaborative and visionary leader,” said Greg Ahlquist, the 2013 New York State Teacher of the Year. “He actively works to include the teacher’s voice.”