JEFFERSON CITY - The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Wednesday, Dec. 17, that Margaret Vandeven, currently the deputy commissioner for the Division of Learning Services, will take over as education commissioner on Jan. 1.
Vandeven will replace Chris Nicastro, who announced her resignation in September. Nicastro had previously come under fire for her handling of unaccredited schools in St. Louis and Kansas City.
The newly appointed education commissioner said there needs to be a "tuition fix" in order to keep unaccredited school districts solvent.
However, Vandeven also said there is not currently enough funding to implement intervention plans in failing districts.
"We actually have submitted a new budget item for that and hopefully we'll see a positive outcome," Vandeven said in regards to the funding.
During a telephone conference call Wednesday Vandeven said she would focus on the Top 10 by 20 initiative, which aims for Missouri to be ranked among the top 10 states for student achievement by 2020, as well as working with unaccredited school districts. She also stressed improvements for districts throughout the state.
She said the Normandy school district is 80 students away from potential fiscal insolvency.
"While all children deserve access to a high quality education, there are ways to make that happen without bankrupting the whole school district," Vandeven said.
She said a regional team would continue to monitor the Kansas City district.
Vandeven was one of five finalists interviewed by the State Board of Education and the only finalist who had worked in the Education Department. The other four finalists had been school superintendents.
State Board President Peter Herschend said Vandeven was chosen for her passion and her commitment to Top 10 by 20.
"She is probably the best expert in the state on the administration of those goals, formulation of them and then seeing to it that they're gonna happen," he said.
Vandeven said she would focus on "effective school leadership" throughout the state, a "focused curriculum" and making sure that "everybody takes ownership for the students," to become a top state in education.
She said she was thrilled to take on the position despite issues facing the department, such as funding for intervention plans in unaccredited districts and racial issues raised by Ferguson.
Gov. Jay Nixon congratulated Vandeven in a statement released shortly after the announcement.
"Missouri's Commissioner of Education plays a critical role in helping to ensure that all children in our state have the opportunity to go to a good public school where they will learn the skills and knowledge they need to find success in college or career," Nixon was quoted as saying in the statement.