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Jesús Aguirre to be D.C.’s new state superintendent for education

Jesús Aguirre, director of the District’s parks department, will become the city’s new state superintendent of education, Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced Tuesday.

Aguirre has spent most of his career in education and came to the District in 2007 as a member of the transition team leading up to Michelle Rhee’s tenure as chancellor. He served as the school system’s director of operations until Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) tapped him to head the Department of Parks and Recreation in 2009.

Aguirre will assume his new role Oct. 1, replacing Emily Durso, who has been leading the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in an interim capacity since June. Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley Jones stepped down this year to care for her husband.

Gray (D) said in a statement that Aguirre is a “natural choice to direct OSSE’s efforts to ensure every child in the District has access to a high-quality public education.”

OSSE is responsible for policies that affect students from early childhood to adult education in the city’s traditional and charter schools. It administers federal grants and college tuition assistance, conducts an annual school enrollment census and oversees the administration of standardized tests.

Established by the same 2007 law that ushered in mayoral control of the schools, OSSE has been plagued by high staff turnover and has often struggled to find its footing. Charter-school advocates have pushed back against its attempts to craft citywide policies on discipline and other issues, arguing that charters are not subject to such regulation.

Aguirre is familiar with charters’ desire for independence, according to Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, whose office oversees OSSE. Aguirre and his wife — both Teach for America alumni — co-founded and operated an Arizona charter school for a decade.

“He is very clear on the importance of charter autonomy,” Smith said, adding that she believes Aguirre has the ability to build OSSE into “a stable place” that can attract and retain talent.

When Aguirre arrived as interim director in December 2009, the parks department was embroiled in controversies over construction contracts and frequent leadership changes. Aguirre said he was proud of his efforts to help the department move past that era, though he did run into disputes about park permitting and what constitutes appropriate swimwear at city pools.

An enthusiastic participant in the yearly cannonball dive to open city pools, he has overseen the effort to revamp playgrounds across the city.

Sharia Shanklin, chief of community programs for the parks department, will serve as that agency’s interim director.

Aguirre said he is looking forward to his new job.

“I believe we’re still at the hub of where folks want to be in terms of education reform, and I believe OSSE is a critical piece of it,” he said.

Aguirre’s wife, Monica Liang-Aguirre, is well known in the D.C. education world; she has been principal of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School since 2008. Rhee, whose children attended the Woodley Park school, hired Liang-Aguirre after firing the previous principal.

The couple live in Ward 4 with their three children, two of whom attend Oyster-Adams; one of their children attends St. Coletta Special Education Public Charter School.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.

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