Vilaseca named education secretary

Armando Vilaseca speaks at  the governor's press conference on Jan. 3, 2013. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Armando Vilaseca speaks at the governor’s press conference on Jan. 3, 2013. Photo by Nat Rudarakanchana

Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed Armando Vilaseca, the state’s education commissioner since 2009, as secretary of Vermont’s newly formed Agency of Education. Legislation passed last year elevated the Department of Education to an agency, eliminated the post of commissioner, and launched a national search for a education secretary. The announcement was made on Thursday during a press conference in Montpelier. A State Board of Education search committee gave the governor three candidates to choose from.

The administration will start searching for a new education secretary next summer and plans to make an appointment by January 2014. Vilaseca said he sought the post for a year because he wanted to help make sure the major policy and structural changes associated with the creation of a cabinet-level agency went smoothly.

“With so much going on, and our close relationship right now, and with the change from a department to agency, and all the other work needs to be done, it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to help make this transition smoother,” Vilaseca said. “To make sure the governor’s vision and his priorities are front and center to whatever we do.”

“It’s the best of both worlds for the secretary, for me, and for state of Vermont,” Shumlin said in reference to the brevity of the term. “We come in, do all our great work, bring all kinds of energy to it, and then it’s good to have new blood. So this serves all of our interests.”

Vilaseca said he and Shumlin had “almost identical views on education and the direction we should be moving in.” Shumlin added that having worked with Vilaseca as commissioner strongly influenced his decision.

Shumlin said he’d announce major education policy priorities and changes next week. He declined to give further details.

Vilaseca has worked as an educator in Vermont for 30 years. He began as a teacher, served as principal at three different schools and superintendent of two different districts before becoming commissioner of education in 2009. During his tenure as education commissioner, Vilaseca has been a vocal advocate for dual enrollment legislation, school consolidation (on a voluntary basis), and adding 15 days onto the academic year.

His stances on these issues are outlined in the op-eds and news stories below:

School consolidation
http://vtdigger.org/2012/05/24/vilaseca-voluntary-mergers-a-move-in-the-right-direction/
http://vtdigger.org/2011/03/17/vilaseca-montpelier-too-small-to-sustain-its-own-supervisory-union/

Dual enrollment:
http://vtdigger.org/2012/04/13/vilaseca-dont-let-this-opportunity-pass-us-by/

Extension of the academic year:
http://www.wcax.com/story/19249508/do-vt-kids-need-an-extra-month-in-school

Vilaseca has also been an outspoken critic of the No Child Left Behind Act — a Bush era federal education law, which requires all students be “proficient” in math and reading by 2014 and penalizes schools for failing to meet these standards. He supported the State Board’s decision to replace the NECAP test, which is used to measure “proficiency” through NCLB, with the Common Core Standards, a new assessment that’s been adopted by the majority of states.

His stances have, on occasion, drawn fire from education stakeholders in Vermont. Last August, the commissioner issued a memo requiring that homeschooling families file paperwork by a certain date or be designated “legally truant.” The new deadline stirred dissent among some home schooling parents; Vilaseca did not retract the deadline.

Editor’s note: Nat Rudarakanchana contributed to this report.

Follow Alicia on Twitter @aefreese

Alicia FreeseAlicia Freese

Comments

  1. News coverage keeps repeating the mantra that this Department of Education to Agency of Education is an “elevation” of that part of our state government. I view this change from a semi-autonomous department to a wholly governor owned subsidiary agency as a definite demotion.

    I wonder if Vilaseca has to take a cut in pay to go with his demotion from Commissioner to secretary?

  2. Julie Hansen :

    I have no idea about the salary, but with the removal of the political buffer of the state board, he has gained the power to make change quickly and without a lot of discussion.

  3. David Bain :

    So what role does the State School Board serve?

    • We’ll just have to wait and see what the Legislature and Governor come out with in their Title 16 “technical” corrections bill.

      Right now the state board’s duties are to develop statewide educational policy and oversee various licensing operations such as educators and educational institutions – within the confines of the Legislative/Governor defined Title 16. (See 16 V.S.A. § 164 at http://www.leg.state.vt.us/statutes/fullsection.cfm?Title=16&Chapter=003&Section=00164 for a more detailed listing.)

      We now have the Governor’s subsidiary agency of education along with a secretary, but Vermont law still refers to a Department of Education with a Commissioner. Because of this the legislature will embark on what they’re calling a “technical” revision to make sure Vermont’s education law (primarily Title 16) catches up with the structural changes.

      I would urge that folks pay attention because “technical”, much like “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder, and there are plenty of legislative beholders who will push with alacrity to further consolidate educational governance.

      A specific example is just who will end up with legal policy development authority? Will it be the Vermont State Board of Education as the law currently states? Or will it be the Governor and his secretary as claimed by Shumlin? (Here’s a little more in dated blog post – http://connectedvermont.net/the_blog/54/a_question_that_must_be_asked_by_vermonts_state_board_of_education) Not long ago VTDigger posted an article that helps to illustrate the current mood of the legislative leadership (see http://vtdigger.org/2012/12/17/legislative-preview-education-committees-to-review-pre-k-and-school-consolidation-again-and-dual-enrollment-programs/).

      To recap: if you want to know where the Vermont State Board of Education (VSBE) fits into all this – you’ll have to either passively take a deep breath and wait or start advocating your views in a loud and public manner – in my opinion at this point in time the VSBE’s duties are nothing more than a crap shoot with a roll of seven being “not much more than a Gubernatorial face”.

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