State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala will retire when her contract expires at the end of January. Her career in education spans nearly 40 years, and she spent much of her tenure as state superintendent navigating schools through an unprecedented pandemic.
Ayala is both the first woman and person of color to hold the position as the state’s top education official. The role oversees more than 850 school districts across Illinois, serving 2 million students.
She was one year into the job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“I think the most important thing was getting our schools ready to be in remote status,” Ayala said. “Never did we imagine that that remote status was going to continue to finish the school year, let alone also having students in remote status the next year.”
Ayala said she is proud of equity work being done across the state through efforts like the Equity Journey Continuum, which is an informational resource for districts to track their progress toward closing gaps in student achievement and opportunities.
Throughout her career, Ayala championed increased resources for students learning English through her work at the Latino Policy Forum and the Illinois State Board of Education Bilingual Advisory Council.
One in four Illinois students is Latino, according to state data. Ayala said the value of language and culture is critical.
“We’re developing our students for the future, for a global society,” Ayala said. “Providing that and valuing and using the assets that our children bring with respect to their language and culture is something that we need to do more of.”