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Council, Board vote to appoint Dr. Ken Wagner as Education Commissioner

The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously this evening to appoint Dr. Ken Wagner, a former school psychologist, middle-school principal, and education-policy leader in New York State, as the next Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

The Board of Education, meeting jointly with the Council, affirmed the selection by a unanimous vote. Dr. Wagner will begin his service as Education Commissioner next month. 

“We need to make Rhode Island a place of opportunity, where all of our kids have access to a high-quality education and the tools they need to succeed,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “Ken is focused on bringing people together to promote learning, and I am confident he has the leadership skills and experience to strengthen our schools and support our students and teachers. I am pleased Ken has been approved as our next Education Commissioner, and I want to thank the Council and Board for their thoughtful consideration.”

Governor Raimondo began the search process for a new Education Commissioner with a statewide listening tour, through which she met with parents, students, teachers, administrators, district leaders and community members to hear directly from Rhode Islanders what they hoped for in a new commissioner. Common themes emerged, with each group calling for a leader who listens and is collaborative, thoughtful and student-centered. Following the listening tour, Governor Raimondo began a national search, which led her to choose Dr. Wagner and to present him to the Council and the Board for appointment. 

“It became clear through our search process that Rhode Islanders want their next Commissioner to be a good listener, someone who collaborates and builds bridges, a hard-worker who is student-centered, and an individual who supports teaching and learning,” said Barbara S.Cottam, Chair of the Board of Education. “Ken is a knowledgeable leader who has experience at the school, district, and state levels, and who meets all of these criteria. Ken is a true listener, and he has a track record of responding to the needs of students and teachers. I look forward to working with him as he takes on the leadership of elementary and secondary education.”

“It’s important to all of us that our next educator leader must have a proven track record of putting students first, listening to families, and working on partnership,” said Daniel McConaghy, Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “Ken Wagner has worked as a school psychologist, a middle-school principal, and a leader in education policy for the State of New York. Ken has earned a reputation as an education innovator who created a free curriculum that teachers are turning to on a national basis. He will be a great asset to all Rhode Islanders as he takes on this new, challenging responsibility.”

“I approach my work with a rigorous commitment to open, honest dialogue with the people who matter the most – the students, families, teachers and principals – the people on the ground doing the hard work every day that makes learning happen,” Dr. Wagner said. “For so many Rhode Islanders, success starts in the classroom. It is my priority to make those classrooms the safe, creative, and challenging learning environments our kids deserve. I look forward to working with Governor Raimondo and Chairs Cottam and McConaghy. It is exciting to join such a committed team.”

Dr. Wagner has served in diverse roles within the field of public education in New York, including being elected to his local school committee at age 18. He started his professional career as a school psychologist, providing counseling and crisis services and conducting violence-prevention training for staff members. He later moved into leadership positions, serving as an assistant principal and then a middle-school principal in schools on Long Island, N.Y.

Dr. Wagner joined the New York State Education Department in 2009, where he most recently served as Senior Deputy Commissioner for Education Policy, responsible for the overall operations for elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education services. During his time at the N.Y. State Education Department, he coordinated the implementation of the New York college- and career-ready learning standards as well as the aligned curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development resources for educators, families, and the public. He has also been in charge of education technology and data collection and management. Dr. Wagner oversaw the development of the EngageNY.org curriculum website, which has received more than 100-million page views from more than 8-million visitors throughout the world.  

He holds a Ph.D. in school and clinical psychology from Hofstra University. 

In its vote of approval today, the Council authorized Chair McConaghy to negotiate an employment agreement for Dr. Wagner.