Dr. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools (Courtesy Photo)

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter

Despite the chaos being sown by Donald Trump who has refused to concede the presidential election he lost three weeks ago, President-Elect Joe Biden is moving forward with the presidential transition and naming choices to fill his cabinet.

Dr. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) has emerged as a leading contender to be Biden’s secretary of education according to several reports.

Santelises, who has led the approximately 79,000-student BCPS since 2016, would replace current education secretary Betsy DeVos, whose tenure under Trump has been characterized by many educators as disastrous.

Santelises’ time leading BCPS, which has been historically one of the most challenging public school systems in the country, has been generally viewed by many educators as successful. She has been praised for her work on the BCPS curriculum and presiding over the system’s improvement on state exams last year.

Prior to her ascension as Baltimore Schools CEO, Santelises, who was raised in Peabody, Mass., worked in Boston Public Schools, the Education Trust in New York, as well as Teach for America.

According to a report in education publication Chalkbeat earlier this month, the group Democrats for Education Reform is making a behind-the-scenes push for Biden to select either Santelises, Chicago schools chief Janice Jackson, or Philadelphia superintendent William Hite.

Santelises’ backers have generated the #IStandWithSonja hashtag in response to efforts by some detractors in this highly politicized process of selecting the nation’s next education secretary at this critical time.

The President-Elect’s team has not outlined any specific qualifications he is seeking in his education secretary (outside of the candidate being a former public school teacher, a requirement Santelises fulfills). However, according to several reports the next person to fill the position will immediately face a major test, whether or not to waive federal standardized testing requirements 2021, because of the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic on K-12 education. Those testing requirements were waived last Spring because of the then burgeoning pandemic.

Ultimately, standardized test scores are a significant metric for students hoping to gain admittance at top colleges and universities and earn academic scholarships. Many educators argue the pandemic has only augmented disparities in standardized testing and public school instruction in general.

Santelises holds degrees from Brown University, Columbia University and Harvard University.

BCPS did not answer the AFRO’s request for a comment.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor