WITH INTERVIEWS HELD this week for our next state commissioner of education, now is the time to advocate for our first Latino commissioner, to meet the needs and challenges of our fastest-growing student group.
Three finalists have emerged to succeed the well-regarded former Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner Mitchell Chester, who died last year after battling cancer. While each brings strong credentials to the table, New York’s Angelica Infante-Green is the right candidate at the right time.
As a graduate of New York City schools, and a Teach for America alumna, she represents the hopes and dreams of our Latino students. As one of New York’s top education officials, Infante-Green was hailed for her work to expand bilingual programs, while ensuring that immigrant families landed in the best schools for their children.
This is the type of leader we need in Massachusetts where Latinos represent a large and growing share of the student body, particularly in our Gateway Cities like Chelsea, Lawrence, Springfield, and Holyoke.
Their likelihood to succeed, or fail, in coming years will help define our story for decades.
In Boston, Latinos make up more than 40 percent of our students, but less than 10 percent of teachers. Social and language barriers contribute to the lowest graduation and highest dropout rates of all groups. It’s no wonder less than 20 percent of working-age Latinos have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 50 percent of non-Latinos, according to the Boston Foundation’s Boston Indicators report.
About 40 percent of Latinos in Greater Boston are foreign-born, and often arrive speaking only Spanish or Portuguese. In a knowledge-based economy, where communication is paramount, English Language programs are critical — but too many lack funding and resources, which hold students back.
We need a leader who brings creative solutions to these problems.
In her role as deputy commissioner of New York schools, Infante-Green spearheaded the state’s efforts to address racial issues and better serve English language learners. She led efforts to ensure equity in New York’s next generation math and English standards, and established the state’s well-regarded seal of accreditation for bilingual students. Under her leadership, New York became the first state in the nation to translate math modules into five major languages.
Infante-Green is the right type of leader to move Massachusetts beyond the divisive rhetoric of the past toward a forward-looking plan to dramatically improve teaching and learning for all kids, with a laser focus on English Learners and other historically disadvantaged students.
The recent Boston Globe Spotlight series on the city’s racist image and reality drives home some of the challenges facing the city’s minority communities to gain a foothold in the city’s economic success. Our Latino community faces many of the same issues around race and inequality as the black community, although young Latino students have even fewer educators and political leaders to look up to, according to a report from the Greater Boston Latino Network.
Infante-Green’s experience in New York makes her well prepared to lead on these challenges facing Boston and other diverse districts across the state. Compounding the existing challenges in these districts, thousands of new students are coming from intense hardship in Puerto Rico struggling to acclimate to schools in a foreign environment.
I am pleased that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is looking at candidates like Angelica Infante-Green, the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Latino students in Massachusetts are in desperate need of a leader to look up to, who will in turn meet their unique challenges.
Aixa Beauchamp is a Boston-based consultant and philanthropist. She is co-founder of the Latino Legacy Fund, co-chair of the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico Fund, and serves on Governor Baker’s Latino Advisory Commission.