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Education board chair on pro-trans executive order, agency plans
By Joshua Irvine
2019-07-31

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After several years as a University of Chicago ( UChicago ) administrator, former Illinois State Board of Education official Darren Reisberg has returned to the agency as chair of the board.

Reisberg entered the four-year term after seven years with UChicago, where he was the inaugural director of its Institute of Politics; vice president and secretary of the university; and, most recently, vice president of strategic initiatives and deputy provost. He was with the Board of Education from 2005 through 2012, where he worked as a deputy superintendent and general counsel.

"It's exciting to be back in state education policy," Reisberg told Windy City Times, calling himself "passionate" about his new role overseeing the agency.

Reisberg leads the nine-member board selected by the governor to oversee the Board of Education. The board, which meets once a month, prepares the agency's $12-billion budget for the governor and General Assembly as well as oversees the distribution and implementation of those state and federal funds to 852 school districts enrolling 2 million students.

It also appoints such roles as state superintendent; Reisberg and his fellow board members selected Carmen Ayala for the role in February—and she is the first woman and person of color to hold that role.

The board is also active in combatting the many issues that face the nearly 4,000 schools operating under the agency. Reisberg named a shortage of teachers in rural and urban areas and improving allocations to low-performing schools as key issues the new board plans to take on.

"We have some big issues as a board we're trying to tackle," Reisberg said, adding the board is planning a retreat in September to formulate a "strategic plan" in response to these concerns.

Reisberg's appointment also coincides with Gov. J.B. Pritzker's call for a plan to combat harmful treatment of trans students in Illinois public schools. An executive order signed June 30 by the governor calls for an "Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force" to produce a report on policies affecting trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students; Reisberg spoke at the ceremony unveiling the order.

Reisberg—a gay man who came out at age 30—said he personally recognizes the need for an inclusive and affirming environment around sexual orientation and gender identity in schools and called the task force report a "top priority." He said the Board of Education addressed some of these concerns with anti-bullying policy enacted during his tenure as a deputy superintendent but did not explicitly address protections for trans persons and had not pursued the issue since.

"There's a real hunger and need for there to be some guidance from the state, and that's what I'm hopeful we'll be able to produce through the work of this task force," Reisberg said.

Reisberg stressed that the members of the task force had not been chosen yet and said that any number of people, including himself, could be eligible for the position.

The task force's report is due to be delivered to the governor's office on Jan. 1. Reisberg said that he hoped the Board of Education could develop preliminary guidelines for the treatment of trans students prior to the beginning of the coming school year.

"Every year that goes by where, before the beginning of the school year, we don't have guidance to our school districts, its another year that the school districts and the students don't necessarily know how to deal with these issues that are becoming more important and more prevalent," Reisberg said.

The executive order signed by Gov. Pritzker also charged the Board of Education with producing "non-regulatory guidance" on the legal rights of trans students, though no deadline was given for this task nor was it clear whether this was contingent on the submission of the task force's report. Reisberg said that the Board of Education has held meetings with "stakeholders" invested in gender identity protections, notably Equality Illinois.

"I've been really happy with the direction we've seen the community advance, but there's still significant issues that need to be addressed," Reisberg said.

Reisberg hails from northern New Jersey and has lived in Chicago since 2000. He graduated from Duke University and received his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1999. He previously worked for the law firm Sidley Austin LLP and clerked for U.S. District Court judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer.

In addition to his role with the Board of Education, Reisberg is also vice president for programs and strategy at the Joyce Foundation, a non-profit funding public policy research and advocacy in several Midwestern states.


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