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Virginia governor-elect chooses education secretary as first cabinet pick

Maryland native Aimee Rogstad Guidera moved to Virginia with her husband in 1995.

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin announced the first member of his cabinet Monday, selecting Aimee Rogstad Guidera to serve as the next Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth.

Guidera is currently the President of Guidera Strategy and is the former founder and chief executive of the Data Quality Campaign. Before that, she served as the director of the Washington, D.C., office of the National Center for Education Achievement. She is a Maryland native who moved to Virginia with her husband in 1995.

"Because of the national spotlight that was on Virginia, we saw people put their hand up all over the country, and Aimee is an extraordinary leader when it comes to understanding excellence in education," Youngkin said in an interview with WUSA9. "She believes in charter schools, which is a big part of our agenda, she understands what it means to support our entire education system so that our children can be career ready and college ready ... And she's gonna be a great advocate for Virginia's kids."

The governor-elect added that he believes Guidera stands united with him in his belief that parents "deserve to have a voice" in the education of their children, reiterating his promise to remove politics from school. 

"What all Virginians are going to see is a prioritization of parents in our education philosophy, and how we translate that into serving kids," Youngkin said. "[Guidera] really does believe, just like I do, that we can, in fact, have a curriculum that prepares our children, to actually take advantage of the Virginia promise. We're gonna get politics out of the classroom and put education back in."

Guidera wasn't available for an interview after Monday's announcement but WUSA9 was able to learn more about her career and focus.

“We are unabashed advocates for the use of data to really empower individuals to have to information that they deserve, so they can make the best decisions possible in the service of student learning,” she said at an appearance at this education conference in 2015.

That point even led the Virginia Education Secretary appointee to start a nonprofit under this thought -- data improves student achievement.

According to that nonprofit, the Data Quality Campaign, that data includes information on attendance, grades, teacher retention, graduation outcomes and what happens after graduation. It can help not only craft policy, but direct resources.

“When data is used effectively, it is changing conversations, it's changing decision making, it's changing actions and ultimately, it's changing outcomes and results,” Guidera said.

Virginia PTA President Pamela Croom said she's excited about Guidera's appointment because student data is one of her priorities.

“So that parents are able to understand how the budget works, how it impacts their schools and their facilities… …when it comes in regards to how are students are actually educated," Croom said. 

During his campaign, Youngkin's stance on critical race theory made national headlines. Monday, he double down on his past promises to ban CRT from schools, calling it "not a course, but a political philosophy." 

“So, we're gonna pull it out and we're gonna teach all history to make sure that Virginia’s kids understand where we've come from," he said. "But we're also gonna make sure that our children aren't being told to view everything through a lens of race."

We don't yet know what Guidera will say on the divisive topic. But to find out what kind of leader she'll be, we went to the woman who took over her post as CEO of her nonprofit, Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger.

“I found an organization that was led by a strong board, in terrific financial and organizational health, staffed by a really smart team, so if that's an indication, we're very excited,” Bell-Ellwanger said.

Education was a big part of Youngkin's election platform. During a thank you rally in Loudoun County last month, Youngkin thanked supporters for "standing up for children" and called himself the education governor.

"We are going to reestablish high expectations in our schools, we are going to fund in the highest education budget raising salaries, investing in facilities, funding special education, and we are going to launch charter schools so fast that Virginian’s heads are going to spin," Youngkin said.

Youngkin also alluded that more cabinet announcements would be made before the holidays. 

"We're going to have a great cabinet, and a great senior leadership team," Youngkin said. "I've built a lot of management teams in my career, this is the most important one."

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