Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will leave his post in January to join Rhode Island Gov.-Elect Gina Raimondo’s administration as that state’s first Secretary of Commerce.
Raimondo made the announcement Tuesday afternoon in a press release.
“Stefan Pryor has the depth of experience and the drive to help me lead Rhode Island’s comeback,” Raimondo said. “Stefan’s economic development successes in Newark and in Lower Manhattan are a testament to his ability to lead the Department of Commerce in Rhode Island. Our focus from day one will be on creating opportunities for everyone by making Rhode Island a place where companies want to invest and grow.”
Prior to running Connecticut’s Education Department, Pryor served for five years as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development in Newark, New Jersey. During his time there he helped recruit new commercial tenants to Newark, including Panasonic (North American headquarters), Manischewitz (world headquarters), Pitney Bowes, Standard Chartered Bank, Bartlett Dairy, and Mimeo.com.
“During his tenure as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development in Newark, Stefan Pryor helped to change the trajectory of the city,” Sen. Cory Booker, who was Newark’s mayor during Pryor’s tenure, said Tuesday. “Under Stefan’s leadership, Newark saw billions of dollars of new development. By the conclusion of our administration, Newark — home to just 3 percent of New Jersey’s population — saw over 30 percent of all new commercial and multi-family residential construction in the entire state. I can think of no better candidate to serve as Rhode Island’s first Secretary of Commerce.”
Pryor, who has been a controversial figure in his position as Education Commissioner, played a key role in Newark’s redevelopment. Before that he was president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which was created by the state and New York City following the September 11 terrorist attack to plan and help coordinate the physical rebuilding and economic revitalization of Lower Manhattan.
Pryor started his job as Connecticut’s Education Commissioner in 2011. He touts passage of the 2012 education reform package, which included teacher evaluations, and improvements in both high school graduation rates and 12th grade test scores as some of the hallmarks of his tenure in the Nutmeg state.
Pryor’s 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 taking over the position, Pryor has become a lightning rod for critics of Malloy’s 2012 education reform package, which some regard as hostile to public school teachers.
As recently, as June, 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.
Raimondo, who has been Rhode Island’s Treasurer since 2011, also has had her disagreements with the labor unions in her state because of the changes she made to their pension fund in 2011.
The AFL-CIO and National Education Association of Rhode Island did not endorse her because of lingering anger over the 2011 law.
Pryor is one of four commissioners who have announced they wouldn’t be staying with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration for a second term. Pryor announced his decision in August.
And there are many who will be sad to see him go.
“Connecticut is infinitely better off because Stefan Pryor has been our education commissioner for these last years,” State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor said earlier this month. “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.”
The Rhode Island Senate will need to confirm Pryor to his new post.
“Governor-elect Raimondo is focused on attracting and growing businesses in Rhode Island with the goal of making this state stronger for everyone,” Pryor said in a press release. “I will work every day with that goal in mind and will aim to deliver results for Rhode Island.”
Malloy, who will be chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2016, complimented Raimondo on nominating Pryor.
“I applaud Governor-elect Gina Raimondo on her choice to nominate Stefan to serve in this newly-created role, and have the utmost confidence that he brings the necessary skill and determination to grow Rhode Island’s economy,” Malloy said.