Carmen Ayala 12-20-20.jpg

Carmen Ayala

The outgoing Illinois state superintendent of education’s legacy is being remembered in different ways.


Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced Illinois State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala’s retirement for Jan. 31, 2023. Pritzker said Ayala guided schools through the COVID-19 pandemic and “kick-started” academic recovery after learning loss from suspended in-person education and hybrid learning.


“Dr. Ayala represents the highest level of dedication to public service, and over her long career she has positively impacted thousands of Illinois students,” Pritzker said in a statement. “I’m grateful for her service and wish her and her family all the best for a well-deserved retirement.”


Not everyone sees a silver lining from the past few years. Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski had evaluated the state’s education metrics and said, even before COVID-19, things were “horrendous.”


“Just one out of every ten Black children in Illinois schools can read at grade level, just two of every ten Hispanic kids can read at grade level, that’s a disaster and that’s where the focus should be and instead it’s on equity and on all these other issues,” Dabrowski told The Center Square.


Ayala oversaw conflicts between school districts and the Illinois State Board of Education. ISBE was threatening the recognition status of schools that weren’t following the state’s COVID-19 mandates. Doing so could have led to a suspension of state funding and sporting activities.


Hundreds of parents and school staff also mounted dozens of lawsuits over mask, exclusion and vaccine mandates that accumulated before the requirements were eventually dropped earlier this year.


Dabrowski said there was more division and confusion under Ayala’s leadership, and it wasn’t just from COVID-19 mandates taking away local control.


“When you tie that with the forced sex ed, when you tie that with the culturally responsive teaching and learning standards, which is more critical race theory in the classroom, it’s been a move away from teaching our kids to do math and learn how to read,” he said.


Pritzker’s office didn’t immediately announce a replacement for Ayala.