State's new schools chief promoted by Malloy from interim status
Dianna Wentzell didn't apply to become the state's education commissioner, and she wasn't an announced finalist.
But a few weeks ago, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, through his staff, pulled aside Wentzell, the state's interim commissioner of education, and asked if she would reconsider.
On Friday, the former Hartford teacher-turned administrator was introduced as the state's next permanent commissioner of education.
Wentzell, 50, replaces Stefan Pryor, a non-educator who left to become Rhode Island's secretary of commerce.
In her new job, Wentzell will be paid $192,500 a year, once her appointment is confirmed by the General Assembly.
"Dianna is the right person to do this work, going forward," Malloy said at a news conference after a special meeting of the state Board of Education to recommend her.
Of the three announced finalists, one -- Bridgeport interim Superintendent of Schools Fran Rabinowitz -- dropped out after the city school board offered her a longer contract. The others were East Hartford Superintendent Nate Quesnel and Alan Ingram, a deputy commissioner of education in Massachusetts.
Malloy said Wentzell has proven herself as an effective leader, helping to coordinate strategies that are improving Connecticut's education system.
"I think she's a great speaker and I think she's a great listener," Malloy said.
Wentzell called it an honor.
"I look forward to continued collaboration with teachers, parents, administrators, communities and local boards of education as we collectively work to close achievement gaps and improve outcomes for all our students," she said.
Her former teacher status was what stakeholders wanted.
"We welcome the recommendation of Dr. Dianna Wentzell, a person with such depth and experience in public education," said Shelia Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. Cohen said CEA has worked with Wentzell on numerous committees and has found her to have "keen insights gathered on the front lines of public education."
"We know that she is committed to Connecticut's children, understands that every child can learn and believes that all Connecticut students deserve an excellent education," he said.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said the appointment puts the state in a great position to return to being first in education nationally.
"I was very impressed with her knowledge and her understanding of what it takes for students to achieve at their highest potential," Boucher said. Wentzell "has the depth of knowledge, experience and dedication required for one of the most important positions in our state."
Her job will be to find a way to help the state narrow an achievement gap many characterize as largest in the nation, and to keep an upward trajectory of graduation rates climbing still higher.
Before Hartford, Wentzell served in school leadership positions in South Windsor -- where she resides -- and the Capitol Regional Education Council Magnet Schools. She started her career teaching social studies and programs for gifted students.
Staff writer Ken Dixon contributed to this report.