Gov. J.B. Pritzker replaced most of the state board of education this week and appointed a new superintendent.
The board includes seven women and two men. The new superintendent, Carmen Ayala, is the first woman and the first person of color appointed to hold that position full-time.
"It's amazing. It's such an honor, I mean, it still hasn't hit me today,” she said. “Somebody texted and said, ‘You know, Carmen, today you made history in Illinois,’ and I was like wow! That's just amazing. It's an honor."
Ayala has a PhD from Loyola University and more than 30 years of experience in education, beginning as a teacher in Chicago Public Schools. She’s currently superintendent of Berwyn North district, from which she will resign on Thursday, making Friday her first official day as state superintendent.
There have been two women appointed as "acting superintendent" in the past, but Ayala is the first woman selected to hold the job permanently.
She was sworn in flanked by her parents, and had her two sisters, her three children and one her godchild in the audience. In her opening remarks, she told the board to take a deep breath.
"I say that a lot when I'm in meetings with staff, and we're problem-solving and addressing things, I always say okay everybody, let's just take a deep breath, take a pause, and so, that's just me."
Pritzker replaced eight of the nine board members this week, naming Darren Reisberg, a vice president at University of Chicago, as chairman. He has previously served as general counsel and deputy superintendent at ISBE.
Seven of the appointees on the nine-member board are women. All board members serve without pay, and must be confirmed by the State Senate.
Other board members:
Donna Simpson Leak — Superintendent of Community Consolidated Schools District 168, she earned a PhD from Loyola University. She was elected vice-chair of the board.
Cristina Pacione-Zayas — Director of policy at Erikson Institute, formerly education director with the Latino Policy Forum, she holds a doctorate in educational policy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was elected secretary of the board. She was a member of Pritzker’s transition team.
Susan Morrison — Retired from ISBE as chief education officer in June 2015, she was appointed to the board by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2017.
Jane Quinlan — Regional Superintendent for the Champaign-Ford Counties Regional Office of Education since 2006, Quinlan is a Republican. Her term as ROE superintendent ends June 30, but she had already announced she would not seek re-election. She has a PhD in educational organization and leadership from UIUC.
Christine Benson — Another member of Pritzker's transition team, she was a teacher for 17 years, and a superintendent for a total of 18 years at Ottawa and Streator elementary districts and Mendota. She twice ran for the Senate seat occupied by Sue Rezin. She has a PhD from Northern Illinois University.
Cynthia Latimer — She has more than 30 years of experience in Aurora school districts, and retired in 2014. She serves on several civic boards, and was named Outstanding African American in Aurora.
David Lett — Recently retired superintendent of Pana school district, Lett helped craft the school funding reform legislation signed into law in 2017. He’s now an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, and has a PhD from Illinois State University.
Jacqueline Robbins — A union official for 10 years with the Illinois Education Association, Robbins taught at Dunlap High School, Hult Health Education Center and Illinois Central College.