Federal

Arkansas Schools Chief Tapped For Federal K-12 Post

By Erik W. Robelen — October 01, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

President Bush’s selection last week of Arkansas state schools chief Raymond Simon as the next assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education appears to be winning mostly favorable reviews, from his home state to the nation’s capital.

If his appointment is approved by the Senate, Mr. Simon, a former teacher and school administrator who has been the chief state school officer in Arkansas since 1997, will become a central player in the Department of Education’s implementation of the president’s signature education program, the No Child Left Behind Act.

“I’ve known Ray Simon for many years,” Secretary of Education Rod Paige said in a prepared statement. “He’s a first-rate educator who’ll bring to this critical job the perspective of a leader who has managed large organizations and who, like me, is deeply committed to making sure every child in America receives a quality education.”

Mr. Simon would replace Susan B. Neuman, who abruptly resigned in January. Ronald J. Tomalis, the chief of staff to acting Deputy Secretary Eugene W. Hickok, was named acting assistant secretary in July.

“I think he is an excellent choice,” Kathy L. Morledge, the assistant executive director of the Arkansas School Boards Association, said of Mr. Simon. “He has been a great leader for us.”

The Arkansas Education Association also approved of the choice. A union official noted that the group hasn’t always agreed with Mr. Simon, but said that he had consistently been willing to listen. The teachers’ group has another reason to like him.

“When he was a classroom teacher, he was a member of the Arkansas Education Association, and was on the negotiating team for his local,” Sid Johnson, the president of the National Education Association affiliate, said in a statement. “We know that his heart is with the teachers and the students.”

Before Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, appointed him director of the Arkansas education agency, Mr. Simon, 58, was the superintendent of the 8,100-student Conway, Ark., public schools. He also served as an assistant superintendent there and was a longtime mathematics teacher at North Little Rock High School.

A Lifelong Educator

Mr. Simon’s biggest accomplishment as Arkansas’ schools chief, education analysts in the state say, was helping to create the state’s Smart Start and Smart Step programs. Smart Start is a broad-based program that aims to improve the reading and mathematics skills of children in grades K-4, and Smart Step is a similar program for grades 5-8.

State Sen. James B. Argue, the Democratic chairman of the Senate education committee in Arkansas, had high praise for Mr. Simon.

“Ray has earned the respect of many legislators, and I think it’s because he’s informed and he’s honest with the legislative branch,” he said.

However, some education policy changes pushed by Gov. Huckabee with support from Mr. Simon have proved controversial. For instance, plans to consolidate some of the smallest rural districts and high schools have ruffled feathers.

“I think for rural schools, there should be considerable concern that he has been a stalwart and somewhat unreasonable proponent of school consolidation and district consolidation,” said Marty Strange, who works in Vermont as the policy director for the Washington-based Rural School and Community Trust.

It is noteworthy that Mr. Simon is not a member of the Washington-based Education Leaders Council, a conservative-leaning group of state school officials with close ties to the Department of Education. Acting Deputy Secretary Hickok helped found that organization when he was Pennsylvania’s secretary of education.

In an interview, Mr. Simon said he expects that his experience dealing with the No Child Left Behind Act in Arkansas will be helpful if he’s confirmed.

“We have always been a supporter ... of No Child Left Behind,” he said.

While he expressed excitement about the opportunity in Washington, Mr. Simon said he would leave Arkansas reluctantly.

“I’ve spent 37 years, beginning my 38th year, in public education in Arkansas,” he said. “This is my home state.”

“He’s terrific, and he knows our stuff,” said Patricia F. Sullivan, an assistant executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, based in Washington.

“He’ll be a good assistant secretary,” predicted Michael Cohen, who held the same job to which Mr. Simon has been named during the Clinton administration.

“He understands how federal programs look from the state level,” said Mr. Cohen—now the president of Achieve, a Washington-based organization that promotes standards-based reform—"and what it takes to make them work, and how to keep the state’s own reform effort moving forward at the same time.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
How Does Educator Well-Being Impact Social-Emotional Awareness in Schools?
Explore how adult well-being is key to promoting healthy social-emotional behaviors for students. Get strategies to reduce teacher stress.
Content provided by International Baccalaureate
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Opinion What If We Treated Public Education Like the Crisis It Is?
A former governor warns that without an overhaul, education's failures will cost the nation dearly.
Bev Perdue
5 min read
Conceptual Illustration of the sun rising behind a broken down school building
iStock/Getty
Federal What the Research Says Education Research Has Changed Under COVID. Here's How the Feds Can Catch Up
Adam Gamoran, chairman of a National Academies panel on the future of education research, talks about the shift that's needed.
5 min read
Graphic shows iconic data images all connected.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal 7 Takeaways for Educators From Biden's State of the Union
What did President Joe Biden say about education in his first State of the Union address to Congress? Here's a point-by-point summary.
3 min read
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington as Vice President Kamala Harris applauds and House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., looks on.
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in attendance.
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP
Federal Biden Sounds Alarm on Youth Mental Health, Urges Americans to Aid Schools' COVID Recovery
The president's State of the Union speech called on Americans to volunteer in schools and proposed new funding for mental health efforts.
5 min read
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington, as Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., look on.
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., behind him.
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP