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Former Charter School Official Tapped For Ed Commissioner

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Stefan Pryor. Image from the city of Newark, New Jersey web site.

Stefan Pryor. Image from the city of Newark, New Jersey web site.

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A deputy mayor of New Jersey’s largest city has been chosen as Connecticut’s next education commissioner, a department spokesman said Tuesday.

Stefan Pryor, deputy mayor for economic development in Newark, N.J., is also a former president of New York City’s Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and a co-founder of the acclaimed Amistad Academy charter school in New Haven who became involved in local schools as a Yale undergraduate.

The State Board of Education was recommending Pryor to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, according to education department spokesman Mark Linabury. Pryor and Malloy are expected to appear together for a formal announcement on Wednesday.

“We will say more about this tomorrow,” said Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The department’s work affects almost 550,000 public school students in a state with one of the nation’s largest gaps between the achievement of wealthy and low-income students.

The last education commissioner, Mark McQuillan, resigned in January, citing the stress of the high-profile position. George Coleman, a 25-year veteran of the department, has been serving as acting education commissioner. Coleman has said he did not want the $175,000-per-year job permanently and that he will retire once his successor is named.

A Department of Education search committee initially set a May 6 deadline for applicants, but officials extended the search when fewer than 10 people applied for the position. At the time, State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor said some potential applicants might have been deterred by political wrangling over how to close a budget shortfall.

Frank Carrano, a former president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said he was impressed by Pryor’s involvement with local schools as a Yale undergraduate. Carrano said Pryor excels at building consensus and getting people to work toward common goals.

“I was impressed always by his really strong personal commitment to positive change,” said Carrano, who is now the chairman of the Branford board of education.

Will Ginsberg, president of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, said Pryor has succeeded in taking on tough challenges since he first got to know him in the 1990s.

“I see him as a change agent and someone who welcomes the challenge of making change in tough environments, which is what I think we need in an education commissioner in Connecticut,” Ginsburg said.

Pryor, 39, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

His selection was first reported Tuesday by The Hartford Courant.

For the last five years, Pryor has worked as an aide to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a friend from Yale. As deputy mayor, he has been in charge of offices responsible for economic development and other areas including housing and city planning. He served previously as chief executive of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which helped to guide the city’s recovery from the Sept. 11 attacks.

While Pryor may face obstacles as a relative outsider to the state’s system, his supporters say he always planned to return to work in education.

Kathryn Wilde, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, said Pryor was recognized as an education expert when he worked for her as the organization’s vice president for education from 1998 through 2001. She said his work with city schools influenced the federal government’s approach of incorporating test data in education reform efforts.

“He always intended to go back to education, which had been his passion since he was the youngest alderman on the New Haven City Council,” Wilde said.

Pryor attended Yale College and Yale Law School in New Haven where he co-founded Amistad Academy, a charter school that has been replicated in New York City. He served as a policy adviser for the city of New Haven from 1994 to 1997.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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