Gov. Pritzker will conduct national search for Illinois State Board of Education superintendent

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Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala speaks during a daily update on the coronavirus situation in the state in Chicago. At right is Gov. JB Pritzker.

The first woman of color to serve as superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education has announced plans for retirement.

Carmen Ayala, who has served as superintendent since 2019, will retire at the end of her current term Jan. 31, 2023.

Ayala made the announcement at an ISBE meeting last week.

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“Not only did Dr. Ayala’s steadfast leadership guide our schools through an unprecedented pandemic, but she also kick-started students’ academic recovery,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement.

Pritzker appointed Ayala to the state’s top education post in 2019.

“Under her leadership, we’ve seen significant growth in high school graduation rates and other key educational metrics, a true testament to her hard work and dedication to Illinois students,” Pritzker added.

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Olivia Kuncio, a spokeswoman in the governor’s office, said Pritzker would provide ISBE with a recommendation for superintendent. Kuncio said the governor would be doing a national search for Ayala’s replacement.

The board ultimately hires the superintendent.

There was no immediate timetable given by the governor’s office.

Springfield District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill called Ayala a trailblazer who “always led having the lens on equity.”

Gill said Ayala “conducted herself with poise” during the COVID-19 pandemic and made sure school districts were on the forefront of information.

“I thought she was always steadfast in her support of students first,” said Gill after Monday’s board of education meeting. “Making sure that all of our students were served during the pandemic time was difficult. Getting information out to us on the ready was a difficult challenge during (that time). I can’t imagine anyone who worked harder to get information out to the school districts and tried to go through all of the laws, all the different layers of the laws and the different updates to the law and the lawsuits after that — all of that was a challenge and she sat firmly in the middle of a political quagmire for all of us.”

Asked if she would be a candidate for the position, Gill, who has been superintendent since early 2014 and is a native of Springfield, said “that’s not ever crossed my mind. My husband would probably have a lot to say about that.

“I’m pretty happy here in Springfield District 186,” Gill added. “This is my home and serving kids directly and working with teachers.”

Ayala was school superintendent in Berwyn before her appointment. She previously worked as an assistant superintendent in Plainfield and Aurora, where she taught. Ayala also taught in the Chicago Public School system.

Ayala served on a variety of boards including the Illinois State Board of Education Bilingual Advisory Council, Illinois Women in Educational Leadership, and the Illinois Professional Review Panel for Evidence-Based Funding.

During Ayala’s tenure, ISBE developed the 2020-2023 strategic plan and equity journey continuum which helps school districts identify gaps in students’ access to opportunities.

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November 23, 2022 at 07:59AM

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