A former principal and administrator in the Shoreham-Wading River School District, who rose through the ranks in the New York Education Department after leaving the district in 2007, was tapped to lead Rhode Island’s Education Department last week.
Ken Wagner served as the principal of the SWR Middle School for two years and the school’s director of administrative services for one more before moving on to Eastern Suffolk BOCES and eventually, the New York State Department of Education.
In his seven years with NYSED, Mr. Wagner was promoted from a data director to eventually the state’s senior deputy commissioner for education policy. He led the development of EngageNY, which provides guidance for teachers and educators in implementing Common Core standards. According to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office, the website has received more than 100 million page views since its inception.
Implementation of the Common Core tests in New York, however, has received plenty of backlash from parents — and administrators —many of whom have seen the tests as unnecessary top-down initiatives fueled by private interests over student achievement. The number of students who have opted out of taking the tests has been described as a “growing phenomenon” by one local superintendent, and that description is evident in the numbers themselves.
Nonetheless, Ms. Raimondo said in a statement that Mr. Wagner “will provide the expertise and steady hand we must have to build consensus around the best ideas to promote student learning.”
The pick came after an exhaustive nationwide search by the state after the former education commissioner, Deborah Gist, left her post to become commissioner in her hometown of Tulsa, Okla.
It also comes about six weeks after New York State announced a new education commissioner of its own: MaryEllen Elia, who taught in Buffalo for 19 years before moving into administrative roles and came back to the Empire State from Florida.
Mr. Wagner was voted as a board of education member in his hometown of Seaford at the age of 18, and holds a doctorate degree in school and clinical psychology from Hofstra University.
In a statement issued by the governor’s office, Mr. Wagner said, “As we find ways to work together to tackle our educational challenges, I am deeply optimistic that our collective efforts will pay off for the children and families of Rhode Island.”