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Massachusetts commissioner of K-12 education to step down in March

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. (State House News Service)
Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley. (State House News Service)

Jeff Riley, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, announced Thursday he will be stepping down from his position effective March 15, after more than six years in the role.

Riley said his decision was guided by both personal reasons and a recognition the state needs durable leadership in the state’s top policy role overseeing K-12 education.

“My role as a son to aging parents requires more of my time, and my commitment to provide that support is not compatible with the demands of the Commissioner’s job,” Riley said in a written statement. He added the state deserves a commissioner who can commit “on an all-in basis for at least another five years, and I simply cannot do that.”

The commissioner of elementary and secondary education is in charge of the state’s K-12 bureaucracy and is selected and evaluated by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE.

Riley was chosen as commissioner by the members of the board in 2018 during the Charlie Baker administration. He said he plans to recommend that Deputy Commissioner Russell Johnston serve as acting commissioner until the board can find a permanent replacement.

In his resignation letter, Riley touted helping advance such measures as expansion of early college programs, adoption of a new health and physical education curriculum framework and creation of a new civics assessment. But he said more work remains ahead, including the “urgently needed Literacy Launch initiative.”

In written statements, Gov. Maura Healey and members of her administration thanked Riley for his years of service. They praised him for his work leading the state’s K-12 education system through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Commissioner Riley led DESE through a transformative period, overcoming unprecedented challenges and working hard to ensure that every student in Massachusetts receives a high-quality education,” Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said.

Almost all of Riley’s career has been spent in education. He started in the classroom as a middle school teacher in Baltimore Public Schools. He then served as principal of Edwards Middle School in Boston and eventually rose to become the district’s academic superintendent, a job that required him to oversee all of the middle and K-8 schools in the Boston Public School district. In 2012, Riley became the receiver-superintendent for Lawrence Public Schools before stepping into the commissioner role in 2018.

National education leaders also weighed in on the news of Riley’s departure. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement said Riley has been a leader among his peers in other states.

“Riley has cemented that reputation with his work on deeper learning,” Cardona said. “I consider him a great colleague and thank him for his service to public education.”

To help during the leadership transition, Riley will serve as an advisor through the end of the school year, according to a release from the state education department.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 WBUR. To see more, visit WBUR.

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