State’s new education chief’s first appearance next week

WRIGHT

WRIGHT

By Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

Mississippi’s new school chief will make her first public appearance in the state next week.

Nothing has been heard from Carey Wright since she was named state superintendent of education on Sept. 25. That will change on Oct. 17, when Wright attends the state Board of Education’s monthly meeting and holds her first press conference.

State Board Vice Chairman Hal Gage said on Tuesday the long delay was caused by scheduling. Gage, who chaired the superintendent search, has been out of town since the announcement because of a previously scheduled trip. Board Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth also has been gone for part of that time.

“The reason for not trying to introduce her earlier is Dr. Gann and I were out of pocket,” Gage said on the phone from Utah. “It is probably our fault rather than hers.”

In the meantime, Wright has been home in Maryland tending to business and preparing for the transition, said a spokesperson for the state Department of Education. She officially starts on Nov. 1.

The board could have held a press conference to announce its decision to hire Wright, but Gage said it opted not to because it was still working out the terms of employment that have since been finalized.

“It has been a very long time between the announcement and the press conference on the 17th,” Gage said. “Maybe we could have done that differently.”

The department also could have held a press call with Wright, but Patrice Guilfoyle, a spokesperson for the MDE, said the department wanted to “make it a special occasion” when it introduced Wright and wanted to have board members there in person for that event.

Wright spent three years as chief academic officer of the Washington, D.C., public school system before leaving in March to start a consulting company. A 36-year veteran administrator and teacher, Wright has spent the majority of her education career in Maryland. She was the associate superintendent for special education and student services in Montgomery County, Md., public schools.

“She has a lot of attributes we felt would be useful and beneficial to Mississippi,” Gage said on Tuesday. “She has a lot of experience and a dynamic personality…We were impressed that she is very keen on and worked a lot on accountability. One of our great needs is to hold districts, teachers and superintendents accountable for the job they do.”

During her time in the Washington school system, Wright worked in Michelle Rhee’s administration, although she remained in the district after Rhee left in 2010.

Rhee is known for her combative style, hard-line school reform stances and teacher-accountability programs that have drawn her praise from some circles and criticism from others.

“Michelle Rhee was very strong on accountability, and we want to be strong on that in Mississippi,” Gage said. “Michelle Rhee went about it in a blunt manner, and I don’t think Dr. Wright’s personality is similar. If she pushes for accountability in Mississippi, it will be in a more positive vein.

“Dr. Wright had a long career behind her before she even met Michelle Rhee, and that body of work is the basis for our hiring her.”

Rhee has faced allegations of a test-cheating scandal reportedly occurring on her watch. Gage said on Tuesday he is “perfectly comfortable” with Wright and that “none of that touches her in any way.”

“She wasn’t the person responsible for testing or the supervision of teachers or principals,” Gage said.

Gann, meanwhile, was not involved with the search because his son-in-law, Corinth Superintendent Lee Childress, was among the initial applicants for the job.

“All I know about her is what I read,” he said of Wright on Tuesday. “I’ll know more after next week when I meet her and find out more about her.”

Wright also is expected to be in Tupelo for the Oct. 29 Mississippi Education Symposium.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com