Missouri’s education commissioner has announced her retirement at the end of this year.
Chris Nicastro has been praised by some as a proven leader who worked to bring change to Missouri’s public education system and challenge educators.
For others, she has been the subject of controversy and criticism. Her plan to rebuild the Kansas City School District from the ground up included the hiring of a consultant that the state auditor’s office found to involve a potentially biased bidding process with several conflicts of interest.
Under Nicastro, the Department has been criticized for its handling of student transfer issues in the St. Louis region. Some teachers unions and like-minded lawmakers were angered when it was learned she was in communication with a group that had been pushing a ballot initiative to eliminate teacher tenure.
St. Louis representative Genise Montecillo thanks Nicastro for her service to education for nearly four decades, but acknowledges she has been one of the commissioner’s critics.
“We had several disagreements,” says Montecillo.
She has maintained her issues with Nicastro were not personal, but says from a, “strictly legislative perspective, I know, myself, I was provided with misinformation on numerous occasions where I felt like there was a manipulation of facts when you’re talking about altering fiscal notes, and I still do believe that the commissioner steered a contract in violation of federal law.”
Montecillo says it’s time to move forward with a new commissioner – someone from outside the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“I believe this presents an opportunity for us to move forward and restore confidence in the Department of Education,” says Montecillo, “not only with the legislature but also with parents.”
Montecillo says whoever steps into that position will need to provide stronger leadership, especially as the legislature returns in January and resumes debate of the school transfer issue.
A request for an interview with Nicastro and State Board of Education President Peter Herschend was not answered by Tuesday morning.