(Updated 2:48 p.m.) The state Board of Education used part of its last meeting of the year Wednesday to celebrate the three-year tenure of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
An often controversial figure who had a sometimes adversarial relationship with the state’s two teacher unions and public school advocates, Pryor was praised by the executive directors of the Connecticut Association of Schools, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.
“He’s helped to bring to the forefront challenges facing school leaders,” said Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. “And he’s also taken the time to interact with students.”
Niehoff said she’s personally witnessed Pryor’s interactions with students and he “has developed a tremendous rapport with our student leaders in this state.”
According to Niehoff, Pryor also demonstrated an “unwavering commitment to reducing the achievement gap. This mission in my mind seems to be at the very core of his passion for education.”
“It’s often said education is the next significant civil rights issue. Commissioner Pryor brings that type of perspective and the tireless work ethic to take on this civil rights issue, which is the achievement gap in our state.”
Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, said leading during a period of change is the most difficult.
Pryor ushered in a large package of education reforms in 2012 that changed how certain districts are funded and how teachers are evaluated.
Villar praised him for introducing the Alliance Districts and Commissioner Network systems for the neediest schools and districts.
“I know asking adults to change regardless as to why is never easy,” Villar said. “Each of these initiatives required large numbers of adults to change what they did and how they did it; transforming Connecticut’s education system from a 19th century model to one that meets the needs of children is a most complex and often unpopular endeavor. Commissioner Pryor has courageously put Connecticut on the path.”
Malloy appointed Pryor after taking office in 2011. His background as the co-founder of the Amistad Academy, a New Haven public charter school, made him a controversial choice with the state teacher unions.
Since then, Pryor has become a lightning rod for critics of Malloy’s 2012 education reform package, which some regard as hostile to public school teachers.
This past summer a coalition of state unions adopted a resolution that would require an Education Commissioner to have the same professional experience of a school superintendent. The symbolic requirement was a direct shot at Pryor, who does not have a doctorate in education or classroom teaching experience.
Sen. John McKinney called for Pryor’s resignation back in February after hearing from teacher unions about the messy rollout of the new teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards. The Malloy administration has since delayed the rollout of both the teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards, but many rank-and-file teachers remain skeptical of how the education reforms will be implemented.
The state Board of Education adopted a resolution Wednesday accepting Pryor’s resignation “with deep regret.”
“The commissioner has not resigned, he’s merely stated his intention to resign, that he will be resigning this position before our next board meeting so it seemed appropriate to have a resolution at this board meting to express all our appreciation, our gratitude, our admiration,” Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor said.
“These words are somewhat cold and formal as a way of doing that because I didn’t know how to put how I feel and what I think we all feel into words that fit on a piece of paper,” he said.
“Connecticut is infinitely better off because Stefan Pryor has been our education commissioner for these last years. The work that he has done, the work that he has started and left for us to complete, is monumental in the true sense, in the monument that it builds more successful children, a more successful state, better prepared teachers, a new way of working together with our stakeholders for this department. All of that will persist. That is what this resolution doesn’t say but it’s what I know we all meant to say.”
The board also planned to form a committee to select an interim commissioner.