By Linda Conner Lambeck, Staff writer
Published by CT Post, September 7, 2011
HARTFORD – All around the state, there are pockets of excellent schools, even in the poorest urban areas. The state’s next commissioner of education said he wants to use them as models and, in the process, erase the largest achievement gap in the nation.
“The question is not how a school is structured … whether it’s a charter school, magnet school or traditional … the question is whether the school is providing for outstanding student outcomes,” said Stefan Pryor, 39, the new education chief introduced Wednesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Pryor, who helped develop Amistad Academy Charter School in New Haven and spent the last five years as deputy mayor for economic development in Newark, N.J., is an “out of the box” selection by Malloy’s admission, but the governor called him the right candidate to move the state’s educational system forward.
“I was attracted by his work ethic. He has the right skill set necessary to work with the Legislature to make sure all children have what we aspire for them,” Malloy said. “It’s not good enough that everyone will have an opportunity to learn. We have to do everything in our power to make sure every child does, in fact, learn.”
Malloy, who has placed education as a top priority in his administration, brought Pryor with him to the state Board of Education meeting at the Legislative Office Building. The governor told a standing-room-only crowd that student outcome is key to giving employers the human capital necessary to be successful and help grow the state’s economy.
He called Pryor a turnaround leader. Pryor will start Oct. 1 and make $188,000 a year. Of those who applied for the job, Malloy said Pryor’s resume was one of five he found exciting.
“He’s gone from success to success to success,” said Allan Taylor, chairman of the state Board of Education, which voted unanimously to recommend Pryor as the next commissioner. This is the first commissioner appointed under a statute that puts the final decision in the hands of the governor and the Legislature, not the state school board.
“He’s been able to marshal the resources and people to get things done very effectively,” Taylor said.
Others in the room, who surrounded the future commissioner after the announcement, seemed equally optimistic.
“He is a can-do person,” said state Rep. Andrew Fleishmann, co-chair of the Legislature’s education committee. “His entire career has been about taking on big problems and fixing them. That is what we need right now.”
Mary Loftus-Levine, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said she couldn’t wait to work with him.
“He seems very collaborative,” she said. “The only way change is going to happen in Connecticut is if we all do this together.”
Rob Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said he was impressed that when he reached out to Pryor on Tuesday evening, Pryor not only called him back, but reached him on a cellphone number he hadn’t provided. “That was nice,” Rader said.
Pryor called his new job the greatest honor of his life and told reporters that education is in his blood. He was born in New York City, the son of two public school teachers.
“I watched them prepare their lesson plans for next day on the kitchen table. I got to know the profession up close in that fashion. I always had a close relationship with education as a result,” he said.
He went through Yale University’s teacher preparation program and student taught in New Haven. In short order, he went to work for the city of New Haven on youth and education issues, went back to Yale for law school and helped start Amistad Academy, one of the state’s first and most successful charter schools. Amistad has grown to include charter schools in Bridgeport, Hartford and New York under the Achievement First brand name.
In 1998, he went to work for Partnership for New York City, overseeing its education efforts. He lived 1 1/2 blocks from ground zero. After 9/11, he became involved in recovery efforts that led to a job with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Five years ago, he went to work for Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J., and a former classmate at Yale.
Pryor said he sees his extensive experience in economic development as a plus. He said his first order of business is to gather information from people around the state, including employers who have positions unfilled because the state’s young people are not trained for those jobs.
“There are certainly bright spots, best practices, excellent schools … throughout Connecticut. However, too many of our young people are not yet reaching their potential,” Pryor said.
He said his mandate for change will be to assist poor performing districts, such as Bridgeport, where low-income minority students chronically score lower on standardized tests than their more affluent, nonminority peers in suburban districts.
He also wants to make sure schools recruit the best teachers and principals, have better induction and teacher evaluation systems in place, a compensation system that works and a mechanism to remove teachers who don’t work out.
Pryor replaces acting Commissioner of Education George Coleman, who has been in the job since Commissioner Mark McQuillan resigned in January.
Contact Linda Lambeck at 203-330-6218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.