Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has nominated Charlene M. Russell-Tucker to serve as commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education. Russell-Tucker has been serving at the State Department of Education for more than 20 years in several roles, including most recently as deputy commissioner, in which she has been responsible for overseeing educational supports and wellness priorities.
“I am humbled to be given the opportunity to continue to lead the incredible team at the Connecticut State Department of Education as we join forces with educators and stakeholders to build a nation-leading education system that is resilient to the challenges we face and inclusive of all our students and families,” Russell-Tucker said. “Thank you to Governor Lamont and the State Board of Education their confidence in my leadership.”
Throughout her career, Russell-Tucker has passionately supported family and community engagement in education and led school attendance and school discipline initiatives with a strong focus on equity and diversity. Since March, she has been serving as the agency’s acting commissioner at the request of Governor Lamont due to the resignation of Miguel Cardona, who left his position as commissioner after being appointed by President Joe Biden to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Governor Lamont said Russell-Tucker’s leadership during this interim period has been so impressive that he asked her to permanently fill the position.
“Charlene has many years of experience working with school districts across Connecticut and I’ve heard nothing but praise about her leadership style and effectiveness,” Governor Lamont said. “Our administration has set strong goals when it comes to improving outcomes for our next generation so they are prepared to fill jobs that lead them through successful careers. I appreciate Charlene’s dedication to the students and families of Connecticut, and I’m excited to have her continuing in this leadership capacity.”
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, she has been a crucial voice in supporting student attendance and engagement as schools have conducted hybrid and remote learning. Additionally, she has spearheaded the collaboration efforts with the Connecticut Department of Public Health to ensure provision of technical assistance and guidance development for a successful, healthy, and safe school year.
Prior to serving as deputy commissioner, she was chief operating officer and division chief for the agency’s Office of Student Supports and Organizational Effectiveness. She also served as associate commissioner of education and bureau chief, overseeing a portfolio of programs and services that included student health, family and community engagement, nutrition and safety, magnet and charter schools, adult education, and special education.
In a 2016 interview featured in the University of Saint Joseph’s Outlook magazine, Russell-Tucker recalls vividly transferring to Saint Joseph College from Greater Hartford Community College back in the 1980s, after relocating with her family from Jamaica to Hartford. She earned a B.S. in Nutrition, and was “truly prepared” to accept a job offer which came, in fact, even before graduation day.
Her position was with the Community Renewal Team (CRT) in Hartford, as nutrition coordinator for the Head Start program, working closely with children and their families. It was precisely what she aspired to do, she told the magazine, and she did not hesitate to jump in with both feet.
One summer, she worked with a federally funded nutrition program with SDE. When a Department colleague reached retirement, Russell-Tucker was tapped to fill the vacancy. The rest, as they say, is “herstory.” Her early career demonstrated the importance of networking, seizing opportunities, and being relentless in seeking to do meaningful work that would improve lives, the USJ magazine noted.
In the 2016 magazine story, it was noted that Russell-Tucker had become a “student of management and leadership,” concluding that, “you lead from your sphere of influence. If achieving student success is the goal,” she stresses, “one must identify what are the critical pieces. Physical, mental, and emotional health including nutrition, parental engagement, and diversity and equity are each part of the answer.”
Throughout her career, she has participated in a variety of state and national committees, including with the Chronic Absenteeism Strategic Action Group for the Connecticut General Assembly’s Committee on Children, and she has served as an expert panel member on committees of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She also served as president of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and as a member of the national Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Russell-Tucker also has extensive teaching experience, formerly serving as an adjunct faculty member at Albertus Magnus College School of New Dimensions. In 2015, she was named to the inaugural class of 100 Women of Color in Connecticut. In 2018, she was welcomed to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s Council of Champions.
Recognizing mentoring relationships are key to maintaining students’ correction to school, she has endeavored to uphold mentoring as an intervention in combating chronic absenteeism and was named MENTOR National’s 2021 Excellence in Mentoring Honoree in State and Local Public Service. “The role of schools is teaching and learning,” she explained in the 2016 interview. “But barriers outside the schoolhouse doors can lead to students who are not ready to learn. So we forge partnerships, and develop a presence in the community.”
“Charlene’s nomination ensures that a focus on excellence and equity will continue within the state,” State Board of Education Chair Allan Taylor and Vice Chair Erin Benham said in a joint statement. “This nomination will allow us to sustain and grow our efforts to ensure all residents, regardless of race and ethnicity, are able to obtain the education they need to be productive members of society.”
“As a former educator herself, Charlene understands the needs of our students. She is particularly concerned about students’ social emotional learning and well-being, especially in light of the trauma caused by the pandemic and other outside influences that weave their way into our children’s lives and classrooms,” said Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias. “She respects educators as the professionals that they are, seeking teachers’ voices in efforts to improve public schools, and she is a champion of a racially and socially just and equitable education system that ensures all students have the opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they live.”
“Charlene is a superb choice for education commissioner at this time,” Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, said. “She is a talented leader who is experienced, collaborative, and knowledgeable. Most importantly, the success of Connecticut’s students will be and always has been front and center of all her work. We are fortunate to have her as our educational leader at this crucial time.”
Russell-Tucker will serve as commissioner-designate effective immediately, pending confirmation by the Connecticut General Assembly.