Dr. Margaret Vandeven, a high-ranking official in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE), was unanimously voted by the State Board of Education to become the new education commissioner of Missouri. Her new designation will be effective immediately from the first day of the next year after her predecessor Chris Nicastro steps down.
Previously the Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Learning Services, Vandeven promised to build relationships and prioritize students after a transition in control from Nicastro, who had been subjected to criticism for her effectiveness in handling district matters. Vandeven responded to her new responsibilities:
"I am honored to serve as Missouri's Commissioner of Education, and I am committed to and focused on doing what's right for the children of Missouri,"
"I stand ready to support our school districts and charter schools, working together to move Missouri into the top 10 in student performance."
Vandeven's aims reflect the state's Top 10 by 20 plan, which focuses on bringing Missouri students to the top of national rankings by the year 2020. According to Elisa Crouch of St. Louis Post- Dispatch, the plan aspires to succeed by expanding childhood education and other initiatives. Board President Peter Herschend said of Vandeven that "She is the best expert in the state on the administration of those goals," and added that she has "absolute dedicated passion for the kids in this state to be successful."
While past experiences may have discouraged some people from following the guidance of an internal candidate rather than a fresh external one, the board strongly believes that an internal selection was essential for propagating current goals.
Mike Lear of Missourinet writes that Vandeven has been teaching for 24 years and spent 13 years as an English language arts teacher and administrator in private schools in Missouri and Maryland. She also boasts a Bachelor of Science in Education at Missouri State University, Master of Education at Loyola College in Maryland and Doctor of Philosophy at St. Louis University.
She was selected among four finalists from forty nominations for the position. The finalists included Wentzville Superintendent Terry Adams, Branson Superintendent Douglas Hayter, Joplin Superintendent Charles Huff and interim Mehlville School District Superintendent Norman Ridder.
Both Governor Jay Nixon and finalist C.J Huff lauded her for being selected. Nixon issued a statement congratulating Vandeven:
"Missouri's Commissioner of Education plays a critical role in helping to ensure that all children in our state have the opportunity to go to a good public school where they will learn the skills and knowledge they need to find success in college or career. I look forward to working with Dr. Vandeven, educators and school leaders, and the Missouri General Assembly as we move forward toward our shared goal of continuing to improve the quality of education for students in every community."
Joplin superintendent C.J.Huff was also optimistic:
"She's got a lot of challenges that will lie ahead of her, but she is very aware of those challenges â¦ and is very capable of doing that job."