Lester W. Young Jr., Ed.D., GSE ’78, has been elected chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, making him the first Black chancellor in the board’s history.
As chancellor, Young now leads the 17-member board that oversees all educational activities in the state. He will be tasked with appointing members to working groups and committees, and building consensus on educational policy decisions.
His election, announced at the board’s January 11 meeting, comes as the state’s 700-plus school districts continue to grapple with financial and other challenges associated with teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[The pandemic has] further exposed long-standing educational inequities, particularly impacting our most vulnerable,” Young said upon accepting his new role. “We must use our leadership opportunity in this moment to … rethink school and schooling in ways that will transform learning opportunities for all students, teachers, and school leaders alike.”
Young, who earned a doctorate at Fordham’s Graduate School of Education in 1978, is a former New York City educator and administrator who has served on the Board of Regents since 2008. As a board member, he has chaired a working group to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color and was instrumental in getting the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a mentorship program for young men of color, signed into state law. He also co-chairs the board’s P–12 education committee and its working group for early childhood education.
Young was elected chancellor by a unanimous vote of the board, and his fellow members expressed high hopes for his tenure, which began on January 12 and is expected to go until March 31, 2022.
“Regent Young’s vast experience in education and unwavering commitment to improving the lives of disadvantaged students make him an exceptional choice to be chancellor of the Board of Regents,” Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown said.
Among others who celebrated Young’s election were New York City schools chancellor Richard Carranza, who said it marked a “wonderful day for the children” of New York, and Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers. Speaking on behalf of the teachers union, she said, “We believe Chancellor Young is the right choice to lead the board as educators continue to navigate the challenges our schools face related not only to the pandemic but also to inequity in our public education system.”
Tackling inequities in education has been a priority for Young throughout his career. He began teaching in New York City’s public schools in 1969 and went on to serve in roles as a guidance counselor, principal, and supervisor of special education. In 1988, he took a position as an assistant commissioner at the state level, where he oversaw school improvement and bilingual education initiatives, before returning to the city’s education department in 1993 as the superintendent of Brooklyn’s District 13. He later served as senior superintendent for four Brooklyn districts. After retiring from the city in 2004, Young taught at Long Island University’s Graduate School of Education. Over his career, he has also served on the boards of nonprofits including the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, and the Brooklyn Community Foundation.
From 1995 to 2005, Young was an active participant in the Fordham University Superintendents’ Network, a professional support group for participating administrators.
As a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) during the 1970s, Young was “bright and thoughtful,” said Sheldon Marcus, Ed.D., the recently retired professor who at the time was chair of the school’s urban education department—a forerunner of GSE’s Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy Division.
“Dr. Young is an individual Fordham can be proud to call an alum,” Marcus said. “His lifelong service to children has been exemplary.”
Young graduated from Fordham the same year as Anita Vazquez Batisti, Ph.D., GSE ’78, associate dean for educational partnerships at GSE and executive director of its Center for Educational Partnerships. The two have kept in touch since earning their doctorates, and Batisti notes that Young has been a guest speaker in her classes and has visited the center’s community school program at MS 331 in the Bronx.
“The students of New York state will benefit tremendously from his experience, dedication, and leadership,” Batisti said.