Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin named the first member of his cabinet on Monday, announcing education data consultant Aimee Guidera as his pick for secretary of education.
Guidera has extensive background in education advocacy and policy, and had kids in Fairfax County Public Schools.
After making education a centerpiece of his campaign, Youngkin said in a statement that Guidera will advocate for “data-driven reform” and ensure that children are taught “how to think, not what to think.”
News4 sat down with Youngkin on Monday as he toured The Lamb Center, a drop-in shelter in Fairfax for people experiencing homelessness. He called for innovation in education.
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“This is a moment for us to absolutely innovate in public school systems, to innovate particularly in our K through 12, to start with,” he said.
Guidera founded a nonprofit called Data Quality Campaign which focuses on data collection and sharing of public education.
Youngkin says Guidera will restore high expectations for Virginia's schools.
“What we've seen in Virginia over the last eight years is a degradation in standards and expectations, and as a result, tests scores dropping,” he said.
State standards of learning (SOL) scores have dropped in the past eight years.
While Guidera was at Data Quality Campaign her team published a report outlining how to measure success in social emotional learning, rather than by test scores exclusively.
The organization, which Guidera left in 2018, also has an entire section devoted to equity, saying “students of color have faced inequities in their treatment and opportunities to learn.”
Youngkin campaigned in part on banning critical race theory, a subject not taught in Virginia schools.
"There's a big difference between understanding where we've come from and who we are and actually pitting children against one another other,” Youngkin said.
News4 asked if that’s happening.
“This is happening,” Youngkin replied.
Aside from critical race theory, one of the biggest shifts Youngkin is planning is an expansion of public charter schools. Virginia currently has seven; Youngkin wants to open 20 more in his first year, saying this gives parents the voice they deserve in their children's education.
The top Republican in Virginia’s House of Delegates is backing Guidera.
“Secretary-designee Guidera has the kind of experience parents have said they want in our education leadership,” Del. Todd Gilbert said.
During his campaign, Youngkin pledged to boost education funding and focused on culture war fights over school curricula, emphasizing parental rights to make decisions about their children’s education with the slogan “parents matter.”
“The polls kept telling us that education was the seventh or eighth or ninth most important issue,” Youngkin said at the Republican Governors Association annual meeting last month. “Let me tell you, it is the top issue right now, and Republicans across the country can own this topic.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.