Gov. Gavin Newsom has named Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford  professor emeritus and one of the nation’s most prominent education researchers, to head California’s State Board of Education.

He announced her appointment during his State of the State speech on Feb. 12 in the state Capitol. “We need a new president for the State Board of Education, to lead the way and work alongside State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, and to lift up all of our students,” Newsom said. “Thank you, Linda, for doing this.”

The 11-person board plays a key role in formulating and overseeing implementation of multiple education policies and reforms in what is by far the nation’s largest school system. It serves 6.2 million children, who comprise 1 in 8 public schoolchildren in the U.S.

Darling-Hammond, who currently chairs the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, will succeed another Stanford professor emeritus, Michael Kirst, who led the state board during Jerry Brown’s first terms as governor, as well as his last two terms. Kirst, a close adviser to Brown for over four decades on education matters, decided to step down from the board in December at the end of Brown’s four terms as governor.

Darling-Hammond and Kirst have been close collaborators, and in fact live within blocks of each other adjoining the Stanford campus.

Over the past few weeks, Newsom has assembled the largest team of advisers on children and education of any governor in California’s history. The appointments so far have tilted toward early education, Newsom’s major education priority.

Darling-Hammond represents by far the most prominent appointment regarding K-12 education, and she will presumably be a key player in helping Newsom fulfill his major campaign pledge to create a “cradle-to-career” system of education in California.

Her appointment sends a strong message that Newsom is seeking continuity with several notable K-12 education policies introduced by Brown over the past eight years. Darling-Hammond has been an outspoken supporter of those policies, many of which she helped shape in discussions with Brown.

These include the Local Control Funding Formula targeting funds at low-income and other high-needs children, a new state accountability system based on multiple measures, a color-coded California School Dashboard showing how schools and districts are doing on those measures, and an expansion of the state’s efforts to deal with teacher shortages in several key subjects, including math and science and special education.

“This is a critical moment in California education,” said Darling-Hammond in an interview. She said both Brown and Kirst had “laid a strong foundation for a new approach to 21st century learning.”  She said she was interested in “continuing that very strong trajectory,” while “taking it to the next level.” That, she said, would include “adding early childhood components that will obviously be on the table.”

“Any state or nation that has improved education outcomes has had a 15- to 20-year trajectory and stayed the course” with its reform initiatives, she said.

Kirst said he was “elated” about Darling-Hammond’s appointment. “It is another signal that the governor doesn’t want to drastically change course and doesn’t want to overturn what has been done, but wants to improve things and build on them.”

He said that Darling-Hammond’s expertise in teaching and learning will represent a major addition to the board. “She brings new strengths in a state where we have to strengthen instruction for such a diverse student body,” he said.

Darling-Hammond left Stanford in 2015 to establish the Learning Policy Institute, a research and policy organization based in Palo Alto, where she is currently president. In 2008 she headed President-elect Barack Obama’s education transition team, and was a leading contender to be his secretary of education. Instead, Obama chose Arne Duncan, then the superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools.

The state board will now have had two nationally renowned scholars with a strong policy bent serving back-to-back terms. Darling-Hammond is a former president of the American Educational Research Association, the leading education research organization in the U.S., and is a prolific author, with over 500 publications under her belt, including several books.

Last year, Darling Hammond was named the No. 1 scholar in the nation “doing the most to shape educational practice and policy,”  based on a ranking by a panel of distinguished scholars assembled by the American Enterprise Institute.

Former Gov. Brown appointed Darling-Hammond to chair the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, where she led major reforms of what teachers need to know to earn a credential. “The focus (in the credentialing process) has to be on how to meet students’ needs, rather than just check the boxes of state requirements,” she said.

She said she was encouraged by teacher activism around the state and the country, including in Los Angeles, where teachers have placed a range of support services, such as additional counseling, as a core part of their organizing efforts. The focus on the “whole child,” she said, should be at the root of the state’s efforts to serve children from their earliest years.

The state board approves curriculum frameworks, recommends instructional materials, and adopts tests and assessments that are administered statewide to millions of students. The board also considers appeals from charter schools that have been denied authorization to open by local districts or county offices of education.

Positions on the board are unpaid, although members receive a $100 per diem to attend meetings and their travel expenses are covered. Technically, the president is selected by the board, although Newsom has indicated that Darling-Hammond is his choice to fill the top slot, and there is little  doubt that she will be selected by her fellow board members to the position.  There are currently three openings on the board that Newsom has yet to fill

Like other members, Darling-Hammond must be confirmed by the state Senate within a year of her appointment.

Besides announcing Darling-Hammond’s appointment, Newsom discussed other education issues and school financing problems only in general. His speech mainly focused on housing costs, immigration, health care, water, high-speed rail and other issues.

While mentioning few education specifics, he spoke of how school districts “all over the state are challenged to balance budgets even in this strong economy.”

“The teachers strike in L.A. is over, but the need to confront its underlying causes is obviously only just begun. Understaffed schools, overcrowded classes, pension stresses, the achievement gap, the growth of charter schools. These stresses are showing up all over the state,” the new governor said.

In his recent budget plan, Newsom proposed the funds from the state budget surplus help erase districts’ pension fund obligations and he called for $576 million more for special education, among other increased aid to K-12 schools. But in his speech Feb. 12, he declared that such efforts are “not enough.”

“We are still 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending,” he said. “Something needs to be changed.”

Newsom called for “an honest conversation” about school funding “not only on the state level, but also at the local level.” However, he offered no concrete plans for possible changes.

Senior reporter Larry Gordon contributed to this story.

Story originally published by EdSource.