The Board of Regents on Monday elected Lester Young as chancellor, the presiding officer of the board and a key position in state education policy.
Young, who becomes the first African American to hold the position, worked for decades as an educator and administrator in New York City schools before joining the Board of Regents in 2008. During his time on the board, he has served as a vocal supporter of focusing on marginalized students, particularly students of color and those living in poverty. Young has chaired the board’s P12 education committee, which develops the most significant policies governing the state’s public schools, and led a work group focused on early education.
Young’s unanimous election to the position marks the latest shift in state education policy leadership: he fills the role previously held by Betty Rosa, who left the board to take over as interim education commissioner in August, taking charge of the state Education Department. Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown, who has led the board since Rosa’s departure, on Monday said he was leaving the board for a position as president of the New York State Bar Association, soon creating a vacancy in the vice chancellor position. The Board of Regents is also still searching for a permanent commissioner to head the department.
In accepting the position, Young called for building on the enormous changes to education wrought by the pandemic to create a “new possible” for students across the state. He highlighted the academic disparities and divides that have been exacerbated by the pandemic but also said now was the time to “rethink school and schooling” in ways to alleviate those divides.
“We must use our leadership in this moment to set in motion the policies and practices that will enable over 700 school districts to rethink school and schooling in ways that will transform learning opportunities for all students,” he said Monday. “We must go beyond the rhetoric of our commitment to education equity… use the crisis caused by the pandemic to rethink our system of education.”
He emphasized the importance of involving families in education policy and said that education policies need to be rethought and revised to work to support – rather than marginalize – students.
“We must include perspectives that support and build self-esteem and self-identity of the very students who have been historically under-supported in our society and in our schools,” Young said.
Other members of the Board of Regents lauded Young’s experience and leadership and highlighted his advocacy for the state’s highest-need students.
“If anyone pleads the case of the poor and needy, it’s Lester Young,” Regent Kathleen Cashin said of Young. “Persistently, consistently and with grace.”