PROVIDENCE, R.I. — When Gov. Gina M. Raimondo began her search for the state’s next Education Commissioner, her conversations with experts, teachers, and other leaders in the field of education kept coming back to one name: Angelica Infante-Green.
With a “25-year track record of success” as a “fierce fighter for children,” Infante-Green was nominated as Rhode Island’s next Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education because she’s dedicated her entire career to “ensuring that all students have an opportunity to succeed. And her results in New York City and in New York state speak for themselves,” Raimondo said on Tuesday morning.
Infante-Green serves as the Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Instructional Support for pre-school through grade 12.
During her tenure in New York, the state’s graduation rate increased and students made gains on both math and English assessments, while achievement gaps narrowed for black and Latino students. English language arts proficiency for grades 3 through 8 increased by 16 percentage points for black students and 15 percentage points for Latino students between 2015 and 2018. In that same period, math proficiency increased by eight percentage points for black students and seven percentage points for Latino students.
Infante-Green’s time in New York showcased “consistent improvements in educational outcomes of all students, urban and suburban, rich and poor, inner city, every zip code, every race, every gender, every special need,” the governor said.
But while Raimondo expressed confidence in Infante-Green’s ability to turn around the state’s education, the governor also proceeded with caution, knowing change would not take place overnight.
“It’s not going to be easy, not everything is going to be perfect, it’s sure as heck not going to happen overnight,” Raimondo said. “This is about the hard work, in the trenches, day after day, and refusing to give up until we make the gains that we need.”
“There is no question that we are at a crossroads right now in K-12 education. I think that’s why this room is standing-room only and I see people from every walk of life in this room this morning,” Raimondo said to a capacity crowd at the Statehouse’s State Room on Tuesday morning, which was filled with elected officials, educators, superintendents, and school board members from across the Ocean State.
Raimondo also noted the state’s dismal RICAS test results, calling them a “wake-up call” that highlighted the need to improve student outcomes across the state.
“No one will convince me kids in Massachusetts or any other state are smarter than our kids, because they’re not,” Raimondo said. “Their schools are doing better and results are better because two decades ago, their leaders decided that they could do better. They were going to set forth a plan and stick to that plan because their kids deserved it. That’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to stick with it.”
“Unfortunately, our story has been one of chasing different strategies and flavors of the day,” Raimondo later said. “We’re not doing that anymore.”
Infante-Green succeeds outgoing Education Commissioner Ken Wagner.
She said she will be in Rhode Island “for the long haul,” continuing to fight and be an advocate for every child’s education.
“This work is not about luck, we have to guarantee that all our students will have access to a high-quality education, that every parent will feel their kids are at the best school they could have,” Infante-Green said. “I keep saying ‘we’ because it is a whole Rhode Island effort. I say this with a sense of urgency: we don’t have the time.”
Infante-Green will officially begin her tenure as education commissioner in April, saying she plans on hitting the ground running and building on the “strong foundation” that’s already been laid in Rhode Island.
“We’re going to stick to that foundation, we’re not going to waver or go back and forth,” she said. “We’re going to work together … This is a moment we all have to capture, a moment we all have to work together.”
“If you were to ask me a word that describes me, it would be about equity. Equity means all and I mean all. I represent all kids. It doesn’t matter, that’s who I represent,” she said.
A mother of two children – 11-year-old Asher and eight-year-old Aiyana – Infante-Green noted she’s a woman of color, which meant to her that she’s had to fight her entire life, as “nothing was handed to me.”
“This is how I live my life. We’re embarking on a huge undertaking. It’s going to take all of us to roll up our sleeves and work hand-in-hand. This is going to be a Rhode Island initiative…” Infante-Green added. “I grew up on public assistance. For me, this was do or die. This is not a luxury. I’m coming at this from that vantage point where there’s no way that we’re not going to provide the best education. It’s just not acceptable, I’m not going to allow it.”
“I don’t believe in excuses, our kids don’t deserve excuses,” she said. “This is about solutions, about moving forward and the best education possible.”
Infante-Green has worked as an adjunct professor, serves on Stanford University’s Understanding Language Committee, and is a member of the first cohort of the Chiefs for Change Future Chiefs program. Her nomination is expected to be considered by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Education on March 26. If confirmed by the Board, she will be Rhode Island’s first Latina Commissioner of Education, and the state’s first Commissioner of color.
“We have a tremendous amount of work ahead, but we know what needs to be done,” said Barbara S. Cottam, chairperson of the Rhode Island Board of Education. “If we continue to focus on high standards for students, professional learning for educators, and access to high-quality curriculum and 21st-century learning opportunities for all school communities, we can and we will make dramatic improvements, especially for our students who need it most.”
“It’s time for Rhode Island to double down on this long-haul strategy, and with her experience and leadership in the classroom and in education policy, I am confident Angelica Infante-Green will help us bring this vision to fruition,” Cottam said.
Central Falls Mayor James A. Diossa, who was present at Tuesday’s ceremony in Providence, said: “Angelica Infante-Green is the child of two immigrant parents, and deeply understands the power of education to save lives. This work is deeply personal to her. As a mom, she will fight for all kids the way she fights for her own. As a former teacher, she will support our educators with the resources they need and deserve. And as a Latina, she sends a powerful message to so many kids in my community of who they can become. I’m thrilled to have her in Rhode Island.”