Gov.-elect Tony Evers has named his successor as the state’s top education official: one of his deputies and a former Madison school principal, Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who will be Wisconsin’s first African-American state superintendent.
Evers remains state superintendent until he takes the oath as governor on Jan. 7. He then will appoint Stanford Taylor, Evers announced Thursday in a statement.
In a brief interview with the State Journal, Stanford Taylor pledged “continued stability” within the state’s K-12 agency. She said she’ll continue what she described as Evers’ “agenda of equity” that aims to reduce the state’s achievement gap for students of color, which is among the worst in the nation.
“I’m just honored that Tony would place confidence in me to do this job,” Stanford Taylor said.
Evers could call a special election to fill the nonpartisan state superintendent post. But he signaled last month that he plans to hold the job until he becomes governor, then resign as state superintendent and appoint a successor.
Stanford Taylor will hold the position until April 2021, the end of the term to which Evers was elected.
Evers, in the statement, called Stanford Taylor “a dedicated, thoughtful leader.”
“She is known and respected throughout the education community for her commitment to equity and her work to help all students reach academic success,” Evers said.
The Republican chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, also praised the pick.
“I think she’ll do a great job as superintendent,” Olsen said.
Unlike Evers’ picks for his gubernatorial Cabinet, his appointment for state superintendent is not subject to a confirmation vote in the state Senate.
Stanford Taylor has been assistant state superintendent since 2001 and is one of five who now serve under Evers. She heads the Division for Learning Support, which includes special education, one of the agency’s largest teams.
Before joining the department, Stanford Taylor spent more than two decades in the Madison School District, including stints as principal at Marquette and Lincoln elementary schools and at Wright Middle School. She also served as president of the local teachers union.
As principal at Lincoln Elementary, Stanford Taylor presided over an era of improved performance on reading exams among third-graders. Stanford Taylor said at the time that the improvements could be attributed in part to examining available data, having teachers work more closely in assessing student reading abilities and spending more time addressing literacy.
Stanford Taylor and her siblings were among a few African-American families to integrate the schools in her birthplace of Marks, Mississippi. She came to Wisconsin to attend UW–Madison and study education before joining the Madison School District.
In a statement, the Department of Public Instruction noted state law allows the governor to appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of the term of state superintendent when the position is vacated. The last time such an appointment occurred was when then-Superintendent Herbert Grover resigned and former Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed former Gov. Lee Dreyfus to serve as interim superintendent. Grover stepped down from the post in 1993.
Olsen, asked if he had concerns with Evers not calling a special election but instead appointing a successor to serve out his term as state superintendent, responded that Evers has the right to do so.
“It didn’t surprise me one bit,” Olsen said of the move.
State Journal reporter Riley Vetterkind contributed to this report.