In a field where ideological approaches are in constant warfare, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeff Riley stands firm in his allegiances. Riley believes that it is the responsibility of educators and administrators to serve the children before anything else—politics, optics, and squabbles about positive or negative reinforcement have no sway over the Commissioner.
Riley’s pledge to prioritize student interests is a product of his time as a teacher and principal in various diverse schools. A Massachusetts native, Riley found his footing in education while working at Teach for America in an underserved Baltimore school. After confronting turmoil daily, he felt prepared to address any challenge which teaching elsewhere might present. From a formative internship at the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, Riley built a portfolio which earned him the role of principal in Tyngsboro Public Schools. Despite the traditional separation of administration and students, Riley interacted with the student body often and vivaciously, agreeing to participate in dunk tanks and pie-facing events. In 2007, he returned to Edwards Middle School with a new title and agenda. As principal, Riley turned the school around in a two year period, avoiding a looming shutdown. In recognition of his achievement, he was named chief innovation officer of Boston Public Schools and used the role to build relationships with the many families across the city.
In 2012, he was appointed to a position which he believed would define his career: receiver of Lawrence Public Schools. Functioning as superintendent with expanded authority, Riley tackled the failing district’s achievement metrics. He developed acceleration academies where students could access personal instruction outside of school hours and created incentive for educator success. Despite his increased firing ability, Riley kept many teachers in their same roles and toured schools to better understand their joint workload. He fostered connection with the community and consulted local officials on all matters.
In 2018, Riley stepped down from his role as receiver and was chosen as Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education by a committee of experienced educators. So far, Riley has faced his fair share of challenges and guided the state through each with the commitment to discussion and transparency on which he built his career. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Riley held multiple community meetings and patiently listened to the flood of comments from families and educators. He confronted issues which no Commissioner had ever faced before with grace and made executive decisions to protect students. Children are the future and under Riley’s leadership that future looks pretty bright.