Colorado’s top education boss is calling it quits. Education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who oversees 178 public school districts educating 850,000 children, announced Friday he’s retiring effective July 1.
Hammond led Colorado’s K-12 public education system after stints in the banking industry, the Wichita Public Schools in Kansas, the Boulder Valley School District and then as the state education department’s deputy commissioner. He was tapped for commissioner post in December 2010 and sworn into office in May 2011.
After a series of education reforms passed by state lawmakers, Hammond oversaw seismic changes in the state’s education system, including implementation of new standards, a tough new evaluation system for schools and districts, a new teacher evaluation system, a new testing system, the READ Act, and new graduation guidelines.
“We have done that [and are still doing it] in a time nobody thought the department could do it,” he said in an interview with CPR. “It’s not perfect. It just makes me feel good that we’ve pulled off as much as we have had with fidelity.”
Hammond’s announcement comes less than four months after voters elected two new state board of education members, Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and Val Flores of Denver, who are sharply critical of standardized testing and the Common Core state standards. Board meetings since that time have been tension-filled, with votes on key-issues often being delayed.
Hammond said tension on the new board members didn’t play into his decision.
“It [retirement] at a time when their constituent base feels very strongly like I’ve never seen before about certain issues and what you’re seeing on the board is a reflection of that," he said. "This is democracy in action. We may not like it sometimes but this is democracy in action.”
He said he announced his retirement now in order to give the state board time to develop a plan for selecting his replacement and allow for a smooth transition.
Despite the pushback, Hammond said he hopes the major reforms the state has undertaken can continue.
"Businesses cannot find talented people that meet the standards they’re seeking so they have to go out of state," he said. "I think that’s a tragedy. We want our students to graduate and be employed in Colorado because our economic base is dependent upon that. Nothing would make me happier to continue the route we’re going so that our kids can stay in Colorado and we can grow our businesses."
Unlike all the other state department heads, the position of Education Commissioner is an position elected by the seven-member board.
The board will elect Hammond’s replacement. A CDE spokesperson said the board could outline their process as soon as the next board meeting in May.
In a written statement, Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, called Hammond was one of the most accessible and collaborative people to ever hold the office.
"He believes everyone in the education system has a valuable voice and made extraordinary efforts to travel the state and show his unwavering support for our teachers and education support professionals in delivering a quality education for every child," she said.
Bruce Hoyt, co-chair of the board of Colorado Succeeds, a business group focused on reforming education, said: “Robert Hammond has been an extraordinary Commissioner and will be greatly missed. Under his leadership, the Colorado Department of Education has distinguished itself as one of the most progressive and effective in the country."