Dr. Carmen Ayala: A Legacy of Equity in Education


With plans to soon retire from her historic post as the first female Latina State Superintendent of Education, the Forum extends deep gratitude to Dr. Carmen Ayala for her tireless leadership and esteemed successes in the face of adversity.

Dr. Ayala has served as the State Superintendent since early 2019, when she was soon confronted with guiding Illinois schools through the difficult COVID-19 pandemic and charged with revitalizing academic improvement for the state. Now at the end of her tenure, Illinois is at a decade-high in its high school graduation rates—a factor driven by a rise in graduation by Black and Latino students. 

“I offer my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Carmen Ayala for ably serving the children of Illinois,” said Sylvia Puente, President, and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum. “The COVID crisis made a difficult job even more challenging. Nevertheless, she leaves a strong and inclusive legacy that has enriched the lives of Illinois school children.” 

Dr. Ayala is an exemplar in promoting equity in education. During 2020-2023, she oversaw the development of ISBE’s Equity Journey Continuum, an informational tool to help school districts identify gaps in student achievement, opportunities, and support. She also spearheaded various efforts to improve the diversity recruitment and retention of teachers of color. In 2021 she encouraged the state to adopt Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards.

Before her appointment to lead the State Board of Education, Dr. Ayala gained notoriety for her work as Superintendent of Berwyn North, where she transformed SD 98 from the lowest-performing school district feeding into Morton West High School into a state leader of academic student growth in reading and math, with double-digit growth for students of color. Much of this success was a deep focus on providing a culturally responsive curriculum for all students and implementation of Dual Language programming. Dr. Ayala’s career also includes teaching and administrative roles at Chicago Public Schools, Plainfield SD 202, and Aurora East SD 131.

“For more than a decade, I’ve considered Dr. Ayala one of Illinois’ most important leaders for promoting equity in education for students of color and English Learners. She spearheaded equitable education funding for all students along with increases to bilingual education funding, led considerations in school accountability for English Learners, promoted Spanish Language Arts assessments, and successfully advocated for culturally responsive educational practices. Her leadership will be greatly missed,” said Dr. Rebecca Vonderlack-Navarro, Education Director of the Latino Policy Forum.

Dr. Ayala has been highly involved in various boards, including the Illinois State Board of Education Bilingual Advisory Council, Illinois Women in Educational Leadership, and the Illinois Professional Review Panel for Evidence-Based Funding.    

She also served on the Board of the Latino Policy Forum. As a longstanding advocate for educational equity for students of color and English Learners, she was an obvious nomination to the board.

Publisher’s Notes: Dr. Carmen I. Ayala announced her retirement after 40 years of service and leadership in Illinois public schools.’ Her term as state superintendent of education concluded on Jan. 31. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) named School District U-46 Superintendent Dr. Tony Sanders the new state superintendent of education this month. He will assume his duties in late February. ISBE Deputy Education Officer Krish Mohip is serving as interim state superintendent of education during the transition.

This Opinion-Editorial was first published by the Latino Policy Forum.

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