Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala to retire

Ayala is the first woman and first person of color to hold the position full time.

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Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala speaks to reporters in 2021. She announced her retirement this week.

Illinois Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala speaks to reporters in 2021. She announced her retirement this week.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala is retiring at the end of January after nearly four years at the helm of state policy on public schools.

Ayala, the first woman and first person of color to hold the position full time, led Illinois schools through the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing guidelines for districts learning how to operate remote education and the safe return of students to classrooms.

“For the last almost 40 years I have been so blessed to serve the students in Illinois,” Ayala said at an Illinois State Board of Education meeting this week. “If anyone knows me, they know that equity is my passion. I’ve been referred to as an equity warrior.

“But now it is time to enjoy and spend time with family and friends,” she said, announcing her retirement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who appointed Ayala to the state’s top education post in 2019, said Friday she “represents the highest level of dedication to public service, and over her long career she has positively impacted thousands of Illinois students.

“Not only did Dr. Ayala’s steadfast leadership guide our schools through an unprecedented pandemic, but she also kick-started students’ academic recovery,” he said, touting gains including the state’s high school graduation rate since 2011 and higher teacher retention and educator diversity.

Ayala served as the Berwyn schools superintendent before leading ISBE. She previously worked as an assistant superintendent in Plainfield and Aurora, and started her career as a classroom teacher in Aurora and Chicago Public Schools.

Ayala will retire when her contract expires Jan. 31.

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