Minnesota Governor-Elect Names AFT National VP to Be State Education Chief

By Daarel Burnette II — December 20, 2018 1 min read
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Minnesota Democratic Gov.-elect Tim Walz on Thursday picked Mary Cathryn Ricker, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and the former president of St. Paul’s teachers union, to be that state’s next education commissioner.

Ricker will replace Brenda Cassellius who, after eight years, was one of the nation’s longest-serving state chiefs. Walz will be sworn in next month.

While the state is among the highest-performing in the nation, its growing number of poor, rural, black, immigrant, and Latino students have not excelled academically. The state has had knock-down legal and political battles with districts in recent years over how to fix racial disparities in student discipline, hold schools accountable for lagging results, and over whether or not to racially and economically integrate many of the urban and suburban schools in the Twin Cities area.

Cassellius spoke often and in a matter-of-fact tone about the state’s failing its poor and minority students.

“Making this decision was not easy, and I took months to discern if it was the right one,” she said of her decision to step down, according to local media. “But at the end of the day, I know that change brings new opportunity.”

Many districts in the state have also operated fiscally in the red, and the state faces a growing teacher shortage in its rural areas.

The governor-elect is a former teacher, his lieutenant governor-elect, Peggy Flanagan, is a former school board member of Minneapolis Schools, and both have promised to increase school spending next year and address the state’s achievement gap between white and minority students.

Photo: The new Commissioner of Minnesota Department of Education, Mary Cathryn Ricker, speaks during a news conference at Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet school on Dec. 20, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn.. Ricker was introduced, along with the selections for the Commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Dennis Olson Jr., and the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, Paul Schnell, by Governor-elect Tim Walz. --John Autey/Pioneer Press via AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.