By Doug Page
Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester passed away Tuesday, June 26, and has been replaced, in the interim, by Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced. Wulfson had been named acting commissioner by the state's Board of Education (BOE) earlier this year. Chester, 65, had scaled back his workload due to illness.
In the press release announcing Chester's death, DESE described him as the longest serving chief state school officer in the country. Chester became the Bay State's Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner in May 2008. In his role, he oversaw the state's public K-12 schools and the nearly 1 million children attending them.
Wulfson joined DESE in 1995 as its chief financial officer after working in the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. He became DESE's deputy commissioner six years ago, according to his LinkedIn profile. Wulfson led DESE's efforts to develop MCAS 2.0, the new standardized test first taken this spring by Massachusetts public school children in Grades 3-8.
"On behalf of the entire administration, Lieutenant Governor Polito and I extend our deepest condolences to Commissioner Chester's family, friends, and colleagues at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education during this difficult time," Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement released by DESE. "Commissioner Chester was a dedicated educator and accomplished public servant. His leadership improved the lives of thousands of the Commonwealth's students and helped make our public school system a national leader. He will be terribly missed by all."
Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the union that represents the majority of the state's public school teachers, posted a statement on the MTA's website: "Our heartfelt condolences go out to Commissioner Chester's family. Although the MTA and the commissioner disagreed on certain education issues, we respect his service to the Commonwealth."
Chester led the state's implementation of Common Core State Standards, which the Massachusetts BOE adopted for its K-12 schools in July 2010.
Chester had national influence, serving on the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the development and content of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam, a standardized test taken by 4th and 8th graders. It is considered "the nation's report card" because it examines how well students are learning curriculum compared to their peers across the country. NAGB is housed within the U. S. Department of Education.
Chester was also the first governing chairman of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a Common Core-based testing consortium, based in Washington, D.C., that consists of eight states and the District of Columbia.