The Council of Chief State School Officers announced today that its executive director for the past six years, Gene Wilhoit, will leave the organization once its board of directors conducts a national search and names his replacement.
Wilhoit previously served as the education commissioner of Arkansas and of Kentucky before taking over at the CCSSO in November 2006. During his time, the CCSSO helped to develop the Common Core State Standards with the National Governors Association. Common core academic standards been been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.
"Gene had provided unprecedented leadership for the Council of Chief State School Officers at one of the most dynamic periods in U.S. education history," said Christopher Koch, Illinois' superintendent, in a statement released by CCSSO. "He has consistently been able to bridge differences in policy to reach a student-focused common ground among our nation's education leaders."
David Coleman, the incoming president of the College Board, referred to Wilhoit as an "educational hero" for his persistence and intelligence. Vicki Phillips, education director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, praised his ability to bridge partisan divides during difficult times.
In an interview, Wilhoit said that he plans to continue working on the same issues he focused on at CCSSO, even though he's leaving the organization. And despite the use of the word "retire" in the official announcement, Wilhoit said he doesn't plan to do so in practical terms, although he added he won't seek another state superintendent position.
In particular, Wilhoit said he wants to continue helping states implement the common core standards, and also said he has a "deep interest" in helping the work of the CCSSO's Innovation Lab Network, which helps states "identify new designs for public education" that help individual students succeed. Some of the basic principles of the network include "world-class knowledge and skills; comprehensive systems of support; personalized learning; performance-based learning."
"I'll want to stay deeply involved in these issues," he said.
Common core implementation, he noted, is the biggest challenge facing state school chiefs in the years ahead. States will need to use the commitment and enthusiasm they've demonstrated, Wilhoit stressed, to come up with new forms of assessment, as well as new professional development programs, new curricula, and information systems that provide feedback and support to districts. States will also need to begin focusing more on breaking down "barriers" between K-12 and higher education, he said.
Wilhoit said he is pleased with the evolution of the organization since he started in 2006 and the role it has taken in policy discussions, but that it is time for a new person to take CCSSO to the "next level of work."
"If you look back six years ago, the chiefs were not asserting their appropriate role that they need to assert in education. I'm so pleased that they've come forward and are expressing themselves in really positive ways now," he said. "They're doing collective work that was a rare occurrence six years ago."
Wilhoit said that in picking his replacement, CCSSO's board of directors, rather than looking for someone with a specific background, will be seeking someone with strong political skills, a good base of knowledge regarding the issues, and the ability to relate to various groups and individuals, from the U.S. secretary of education to a teacher.
The board has not yet said when they expect to name Wilhoit's replacement, but did say it has begun a national search for that replacement.
"They are interested in pursuing an aggressive agenda in the future," Wilhoit said of CCSSO board members.