COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The state’s new public schools chief wants Ohio to develop a sweeping vision for its education system as it adapts to a new federal law allowing states more flexibility over testing, academics and struggling schools, he said in an interview Monday.
Superintendent Paolo DeMaria was hired last month in a rare unanimous vote of the state school board. Sending a buoyant signal of the enthusiasm expressed on the day of that vote, DeMaria bicycled to work on his first day, and then joined about 300 Department of Education employees for doughnuts in the lobby while wearing his “ODE Proud!” t-shirt. He described the experience as “just plain fun.”
“I think in some ways the negative publicity has been on the periphery and, in some ways, a distraction,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “The fundamentals of the work that goes on here are really fulfilling and satisfying, and I think that’s why people love it.”
DeMaria is a respected education policy expert in the state who’s worked under both Republican and Democratic governors. After past stints going back to the 1980s that also included working in the state Legislature, the Education Department and as state budget director, he worked most recently as a consultant.
He takes over after a rocky period.
The state’s charter school oversight office weathered a scandal last year over evaluation tampering that ended in a director’s resignation. After that flap, the state also saw a $71 million charter school grant from the federal government put on hold over concerns that the state grant application contained allegedly misleading information.
Last week, one of the state’s U.S. senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown, asked for a U.S. Department of Education examination of Ohio’s historical spending on charter schools.
DeMaria said he’ll be closely watching the charter oversight office.
“I expect to be playing a very close role in supporting all our efforts to put that operation on firmer footing and make sure we’re back on a positive track,” he said.
But he said the fact that underperforming charter schools are being closed, however, is a positive sign that enhanced state laws are working as intended. He said those Education Department employees he met on his first day appear to be dedicated public servants and he wants to support them in doing their best work for kids.
DeMaria said he plans to gather wide input in developing Ohio’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and then hopes to fold that into “a strategic vision at large for education in this state.”
“A lot of things that would be in that kind of vision and strategy are part of the ESSA, but there are probably some things that go beyond it,” he said. “And I want to emerge from the process not only with a plan that we have to submit to the feds but with a clearer vision as a collective and a key sense of the strategies we want to implement as a state going forward to improve educational outcomes for students.”
That will include eliminating practices that throw up roadblocks to students and educators and building on things that are working.
DeMaria is the permanent replacement for Richard Ross, who retired Dec. 31. Lonnie Rivera has been serving in the interim.