On November 7, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were announced President and Vice-President Elect. Since their victory, they have started working on assembling their transition team and their new administration. One position that Biden has to appoint between now and his inauguration is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Dr. Sonja Santelises, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO, received an endorsement from the Democrats for Education Reform for Biden’s Secretary of Education. The organization’s mission, as stated on their website, is to “encourage the Democratic Party to embrace policies which will change American public education”.
Joshua Lynn, a 12th grader at Baltimore City College and the former Student Commissioner on the Baltimore City School Board of Education, describes Dr. Santelises as “resilient” and “hard working”. Dr. Santelises has been the superintendent of Baltimore City Public Schools since July 2016. Having degrees from Brown, Columbia, and Harvard, Dr. Santelises’s qualifications are certainly not up for question, however, there is lashback of whether her absence in her current seat would upset BCPSS schools and their current operation.
Over the past four years, Dr. Santelises has reformed curriculum, funded mental health programs and initiatives, and has invested into extracurricular activities for city students. Lynn notes that Dr. Santelises has “stood against the status quo” these past few years as a Black woman in power. He commends her ability to take charge and hold her cabinet accountable, providing a positive role model for Black youth across Baltimore.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, with educators, students, and families struggling with virtual learning, many are afraid for Dr. Santelises to leave abruptly from her position. An op-ed piece written in the Baltimore Sun describes that Dr. Santelises has “unfinished work” in city schools. In addition, if Dr. Santelises took the job in D.C., the new superintendent would not have the experience she has gained the past nine months to navigate the remainder of the school year in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Santelises’s endorsement from the Democrats for Education Reform also received backlash from progressives. Santelises has been critiqued for placing her children in charter and private schools. Diane Ravitch, a New York-based progressive education advocate Tweeted in November that “we need a public school advocate… who believes in public [education]”. Many rushed to Twitter to defend the Baltimore Superintendent with the hashtag ‘#IStandWithSonja’. DeRay Mckesson, an activist and former employee under Santelises, tweeted later that day that “We would all benefit if [Santelises] were the Secretary of Education,”.
Either way, if Dr. Santelises remains in Baltimore as the BCPSS superintendent, she will continue to work hard to better the education of Baltimore city students. If she is nominated to become the newest cabinet member of the Biden-Harris administration, it would be a “monumental” moment as she would be “ready and willing” to help students across the nation who are in similar circumstances as many Baltimore City Students, says Joshua Lynn.