Just the first piece to be taken out of Missouri’s public education system — that’s the concern of Gasconade County R-1 Superintendent Tracey Hankins about last Friday’s firing of Marjorie Vandeven as the state’s education commissioner.
“I’m very concerned about public education,” Hankins told The Hermann Advertiser-Courier shortly after the Missouri State Board of Education split 5-3 in firing Vandeven — a move made at the behest of Gov. Eric Greitens.
Critics claim Greitens wants a state education chief who is more supportive of the use of vouchers and school choice.
Vandeven had been commissioner the past three years.
Vandeven, who rose through the ranks at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in the past dozen years, was widely supported by public school administrators and local boards of education who saw her as a champion of public education and local control of schools.
Hankins is among those who voiced support for Vandeven.
“I have the utmost respect for Margie Vandeven,” Hankins told The A-C.
Likewise, the R-1 board voiced its support for keeping Vandeven at the helm of DESE. No one was more supportive than R-1 Director Mike Pratte, the president-elect of the Missouri School Boards Association( MSBA). Pratte is in line to be president of the MSBA next year and could have a large stage from which to voice the organization’s positions regarding Greitens’ new education commissioner.
Until the new commissioner is named, Deputy Commissioner Roger Dorson was selected by the State Board of Education as the interim commissioner.
Hankins said public education officials’ concern extend beyond Vandeven’s firing.
“This is about the future of public education,” she said.
Greitens hailed the firing of Vandeven in a statement issued shortly after the State Board’s action.
“Today, kids, teachers and families won,” the GOP governor said. “The State Board of Education voted for new leadership for our school system. That’s a major step in the right direction as we work to improve public education in Missouri.”
Vandeven issued a statement, also, as she left the state education agency.
“The job of commissioner in Missouri is traditionally not a political role,” she said. “But, at the moment, political forces are eclipsing educational decision. Although I did not come to Jefferson City to engage in political fights, I am willing to fight for children and educators.
“Public education matters. Every child matter; rich or poor, urban, suburban or rural; those who easily excel and those who have disabilities. If we operate strong public schools, we produce a stronger Missouri; a state with higher achievement, with more talented workers, with better neighbors and with lower crime,” Vandeven said.