OUR OPINION: Carey Wright’s priorities have a familiar sound

Mississippians officially met their new state superintendent of education Thursday afternoon, and what they heard from Carey Wright, 63, is a strong interest in and deep experience with issues like special education, low test scores and outcomes related to families in poverty, all persistently troubling facts and forces in the Mississippi public schools.

Wright has spent her whole career in Maryland and Washington, D.C., at first glance school systems with few similarities to Mississippi. While the demographics are decidedly urban the challenges with which she dealt as a classroom teacher and administrator are strikingly similar.

Wright made it clear that she expects to tackle all of Mississippi’s tough issues, no excuses offered, and with years of background work by both her predecessors and a large rank-and-file of teachers and school activists she should find ready and willing to carry progress forward and begin new approaches, as deemed necessary.

Wright’s first scheduled appearance in Tupelo/Northeast Mississippi is Oct. 29 at an event called the Mississippi Education Symposium at BancorpSouth Conference Center. We hope the event’s organizers make a prominent place on the agenda for her to address an audience from what is arguably the most solidly pro-public-schools region in the state.

In addition, Wright said she considers additional funding for Mississippi’s barely funded pre-K education efforts critical. Declarations of intent to seek competitive state funds for pre-K education were made last week, and it’s expected additional money would be sought in the 2014 legislation session. Wright will be the schools’ chief lobbyist during the session.

Early childhood as a high priority is necessary because Mississippi has started out behind every other southern state. Last week, The Nashville Tennessean, in an editorial, criticized Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam for not laying greater emphasis on pre-K funding and praised former U.S. senator Bill Frist’s efforts to ramp up Tennessee’s efforts.

Mississippi cannot afford to stand still after one small, progressive step. Almost everyone else is on the move. In addition, Wright is a strong advocate of the Common Core State Standards, rigorous new plans/standards adopted by 46 states, including Mississippi.

Wright’s arrival couldn’t be more timely in relation to the uncharted waters of charter school education in Mississippi. Wright’s experience includes areas where charter schools operate. Her perspectives will be a valuable resource as Mississippi shapes its first criteria for use by its new statewide public charter school board. New leaders always face a time developing a comfort zone for work, but given Wright’s long experience in high-profile education leadership a quick adaptation seems reasonable to expect.

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