The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education announced on Monday that they have selected a new state education commissioner, Jeff Riley, the superintendent and receiver of the Lawrence Public School District. Riley won the board’s vote by an 8 to 3 margin.
Riley first drew attention in November 2017 when he announced he would be resigning from his post in the Lawrence school system in 2018. The previous commissioner Mitchell Chester had suddenly died in June after a battle with cancer, leaving the position of education commissioner open. Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson has been serving as acting commissioner since the death of Chester. He will step down in 2018 to make way for Riley.
Unlike his rivals, Riley is a Massachusetts resident and already has a strong relationship with the BESE. A graduate of Harvard University, Riley began his career as a teacher in Maryland. He then moved to Boston where he served as principal at Edwards Middle School. Riley also served as academic superintendent and chief innovation officer at Boston Public Schools. In 2012, Mitchell Chester appointed him as the receiver of the Lawrence school system after the state took it over. During his time at Lawrence, Riley was able to increase test scores and decrease dropout rates in the district.
Riley emerged as the strongest contender for Mitchell’s vacated position in a field that included Angélica Infante-Green, a Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Education Department, and Penny Schwin, a Deputy Commissioner at the Texas Education Agency. Infante-Green received three votes from board members Amanda Fernandez, Margaret McKenna and Mary Ann Stewart, while the remaining eight members of the board voted for Riley. Massachusetts Secretary of Education James Peyser also cast his vote in favor of Riley. The appointment will be official once Peyser approves the vote.