October 18, 2013 9:41:22 AM
JACKSON -- Incoming state school Superintendent Carey Wright gave strong endorsements Thursday to the new Common Core education standards and prekindergarten education.
Wright, a former District of Columbia and Maryland school administrator, was named last month as Mississippi's next state schools chief. She's scheduled to start work Nov. 11, but met with reporters at a news conference after attending the Board of Education's monthly work session.
Wright said she believes the multistate Common Core standards have been unfairly maligned and are a chance to improve learning in lagging schools.
"I honestly, in my heart of hearts, believe that Common Core has the chance to be a game-changer for children across this nation," she said.
Though there was little controversy over Mississippi's initial adoption of Common Core, the standards have been under increasing attack by a group of Republican state senators. Those senators have held meetings across the state to rally opposition and have led supporters to local school board meetings to pressure those boards.
Wright also said that state-funded prekindergarten could be a chance to help students who would otherwise come to kindergarten behind their peers.
"If I were able to waive a magic wand, I would have universal prekindergarten for age 3 and up," Wright said, saying it was a way to combat things like vocabulary gaps between poor and rich children.
The state Department of Education is in charge of handing $3 million in state money in a pilot program to allow about 1,300 4-year-olds to attend prekindergarten. More than 70 school districts and groups have expressed interest in using the money, a level of interest which will far outstrip the money available in the first year of the program.
Wright said that one focus would be on improving education for some groups of children that are lagging in Mississippi, such as special education students and black students.
"We do have an achievement gap we need to address," she said.
Wright also said she would initially spend time getting to know members of the state Board of Education as well as reviewing current programs to determine which ones are effective.
The new superintendent will have the opportunity to appoint herself or someone to Mississippi's new Charter School Authorizer Board, which will decide what charter schools are established in the state. Wright said that she accepts charter schools, but said they need to be held to a strict performance standard.
"If it's not producing good student outcomes, it's not doing the students a service," she said. "Charter schools are part of the solution, but they're not the solution."
Wright declined, however, to express an opinion on proposals to use state tax credits to grant scholarships for students to attend private schools, saying she needed to research the issue further.