Mayor Muriel Bowser faces a critical political test with her choice for the new head of Washington, D.C., schools after a tumultuous history of appointments.
Bowser broke recent tradition and named D.C. outsider Antwan Wilson the new schools chancellor for the city Tuesday. Wilson, an experienced administrator, currently serves as superintendent of schools in Oakland, Calif. and helped improve graduation rates over the past two years. The appointment is a crucial test for Bowser following a number of failed nominations over the past year, reports The Washington Post.
The previous two chancellors reformed the system and helped improve public schools in D.C., however test scores and performance standards remain an issue. Only 25 percent of students in the District passed a recent performance exam testing whether they are proficient in both math and English.
“In his 20 plus years in education, Antwan Wilson has been a teacher, a principal, an assistant superintendent and a superintendent, and at every level, he has been successful,” Bowser said in a statement. “Not only is he an experienced leader, Mr. Wilson is role model for our students. His success proves that with hard work, they can achieve what they set out to do.”
The District’s former schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced in June she would leave her post in September, creating the vacancy. Henderson’s departure was followed by the surprise decision by Cathy Lanier to retire as police chief for a position in the National Football League.
“The stakes are incredibly high for the District of Columbia to ensure that we have the highest-quality chancellor as well as a police chief, given the critical role these two play,” Council member Kenyan McDuffie told The Washington Post in October.
The D.C. Council will have to approve Wilson for the role and could be tough on the Bowser administration due to previous appointments. Bowser’s nominee to lead the city’s mental health services resigned after one month in April, following reports questioning his past experience and effectiveness. Dr. Jullette Saussy resigned her post as medical director of D.C.’s fire department after only seven months in the position in February.
Wilson faced criticisms from teacher unions in Oakland for attempts to make enrollment in charter schools a simpler process. Those experiences could prove useful in D.C., where 44 percent of students are educated through public charter schools.
Graduation rates in D.C. schools are currently sitting above the average, showing the first real signs of sustained improvement in over a decade. Much of the improvement in credited to the reforms of Henderson and her predecessor.
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