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State names new education superintendent

JACKSON (AP) — Carey Wright, a former school administrator in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, was named Wednesday as Mississippi’s next state superintendent of education.

Wright brings a 41-year resume as a teacher, principal and administrator, capped with a stint in the administration of lightning-rod school reformer Michelle Rhee in the District of Columbia. But those who know her say she’s more collaborative than Rhee, and her hiring in Mississippi was greeted mostly with optimism.

“I expect her to be a dynamic leader of the state Department of Education and for the state as a whole,” said Hal Gage of Vicksburg, the state Board of Education member who led the search.

The board voted in a closed meeting Tuesday to hire Wright after interviewing her and four other candidates in Jackson. In making its choice, board members passed up the chance to conduct additional interviews Wednesday.

“I feel there’s a tremendous amount of untapped potential in the state,” Wright said in a written statement. “My background and experience are what drew me to apply for this position.”

Wright declined to speak to The Associated Press after her Tuesday interview. Officials said she was inaccessible Wednesday because she was traveling.

Gage said Wright would start around Nov. 1. He said the board had offered Wright a $300,000 salary, but said the offer had not been formally agreed on as of Wednesday afternoon. Wright left the Washington school system in March, creating her own consulting firm. Her last salary in Washington was $157,266.

She would be the first woman to serve permanently as state superintendent in Mississippi. Interim superintendent Lynn House was not a candidate for the permanent job. House, who has served since Tom Burnham resigned last year, said Wednesday she would retire from the state Department of Education after Wright takes over.

The new leader must be confirmed by the state Senate before the end of the 2014 legislative session.

Other finalists were not publicly named, although the AP identified Clinton Superintendent Phil Burchfield as among the interviewees.

Wright has been seeking leadership posts. Over the last nine months, she was a superintendent finalist in Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb. She also applied to be superintendent in Manatee County, Fla.

In a speech recorded in March while she was seeking the Des Moines job, Wright said her strengths included improving student performance, navigating diversity, using data to help individual children and planning strategically.

She said testing data should be used to help lagging students and to challenge high-achieving students.

“A school system is recognized for making sure all students perform at high levels,” Wright said in Des Moines.

Wright served decades in Maryland, which has become one of the highest academic achievers among states. During six years as associate superintendent for special education and student services in Montgomery County, Wright said she pushed a more inclusive approach for special education students, leading to better academic results.

In 2009, she went to work in the District of Columbia, rising to chief academic officer.

Rhee, the D.C. chancellor who built a national profile as a reformer attacking entrenched problems, resigned a year after Wright arrived. She praised Wright Wednesday in a written statement, saying Wright had expanded advanced placement classes in Washington and implemented a new teacher evaluation system.

“Carey’s passion and commitment to delivering a high quality education to all students never wavered,” Rhee said.

Rhee, though, was undone in part by an abrasive style. Wright has been asked if she would be like Rhee.

“I am not going to come into your school district and turn it upside down,” Wright told the Omaha World Herald in answer to that question.

Wright gets good reviews from Susan Moore-Johnson, co-director of Harvard University’s Public Education Leadership Project. Wright has been a facilitator for the project’s summer sessions in recent years.

“She’s very bright, she’s very engaging, she’s very collaborative,” Moore-Johnson said. “I think people would find her full of ideas and good will.”

Kelly Riley, executive director of teachers’ group Mississippi Professional Educators, was among those who said they hoped they could work with Wright.

“I hope she will be able to contribute to a positive momentum,” Riley said.



Carey Wright’s resume: http://bit.ly/15uJjm0

Video of Carey Wright’s interview in Des Moines: http://bit.ly/18qhYQJ

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