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Republican state senator Karla Eslinger, a former teacher, will be Missouri's next education chief

 Karla Eslinger, a Republican state senator from Wasola, will take over Margie Vandeven’s role as the commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Karla Eslinger, a Republican state senator from Wasola, will take over Margie Vandeven’s role as the commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Karla Eslinger, a Republican state senator from Wasola, will be Missouri’s next commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state board of education announced at its Tuesday meeting that Eslinger will take over current commissioner Margie Vandeven’s role in June 2024 after finishing the legislative session.

Vandeven announced in October that she will step down after more than seven years in the job.

Charlie Shields, president of the state board of education, said Eslinger brings “a lifetime of education experience” to the job.

“The department is working hard to serve schools, students, and educators and collectively, we cannot afford to lose this positive momentum,” Shields said in a statement. “With her extensive experience and insight into Missouri-specific education issues, Karla is clearly a leader who can hit the ground running and continue to lead the department well.”

Eslinger was a teacher before working her way up to serve as a superintendent of schools in Ava and West Plains, and then assistant commissioner in DESE’s Office of Educator Quality. She started her work in the legislature as a state representative in 2018, and then as a state senator beginning in 2020.

Previously, she worked as a senior analyst for education services with the data management company AEM Corp. and with the U.S. Department of Education.

Board members said Eslinger was the right person to continue the “strong foundation” built by Vandeven, praising her ability to bring people together.

“We all want the same thing. We want our children to be successful. We want our communities to be successful. We want our state to be successful,” Eslinger said. “I believe intentionally working directly with and respecting each of these various groups, we can literally pull together all of our collective resources.”

Education issues that gained steam during the pandemic — like how schools handle race and LGBTQ+ issues, what role parents and the government should play in their children’s education, and open enrollment measures — continue to divide Missouri legislators.

Eslinger told the state board that she does not define herself as a “reformer” or a “traditional public school defender.”

“I support work towards good schools, period. Good schools. I support parent choice. I support public charters,” Eslinger said. “I support rural schools, I support urban schools, K-12 systems, early childhood, vocational, you name it.”

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