Photo: Joel Bissell | MLive
The new leader of Kalamazoo Public Schools is a Chicago school administrator with nearly two decades of experience in education.
Rita Raichoudhuri, 39, was chosen as superintendent in a unanimous vote Wednesday, Feb. 19, after three rounds of interviews, multiple community forums and six months of work by the district’s Board of Education.
“I am honored and thrilled that I have been invited to become a part of the KPS family and a member of the Kalamazoo community,” Raichoudhuri said in a statement emailed to MLive. “The outpouring of support and encouragement has been truly humbling.”
Raichoudhuri is currently executive director of early college and career education at Chicago Public Schools. During three interviews with the board, she emphasized the need for equitable education, data-driven decision making and the use of best practices to create innovative approaches to educating children.
Board members said Raichoudhuri was detail-oriented and is an advocate for children. They applauded her work in career and technical education and experience in teaching.
Board President Patti Sholler-Barber praised Raichoudhuri’s emphasis on teachers’ mental health and wellness.
“The fact that she said it was the hardest job she ever did really spoke to me," Sholler-Barber said. "There was a lot of passion in that answer.”
Raichoudhuri, who grew up in the San Francisco East Bay Area in California, has served in her current role with Chicago Public Schools since 2017. Prior to that, she worked about four years as principal at Wells Community Academy High School in Chicago.
She holds a doctorate degree in urban education leadership from the University of Chicago, a master’s degree in education and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science.
Raichoudhuri has been honored for innovative techniques in teaching leadership and holds multiple certifications in teaching and administrative roles. She also holds a reading specialist endorsement and a cross-cultural language and academic development certification.
“I’m excited about rolling up my sleeves and digging into the work,” Raichoudhuri said in her statement. “I promise the community nothing but my very best as we work toward continuous improvement together.”
Kalamazoo Public Schools spokesperson Susan Coney declined an MLive request to interview Raichoudhuri until after the completion of contract negotiations with the district.
During her interview Monday, Feb. 17, Raichoudhuri spoke about strengthening career and technical education programs, making decisions collaboratively with the board and other leaders, her approach to increasing literacy and recruiting and retaining teachers of color.
Raichoudhuri said, as superintendent, she would continually learn best practices in education and look for new, innovative ways to better educate students.
Her time working in education began in 2004, when Raichoudhuri began working as an educator at Glenbook Middle School in the Mount Diablo Unified School District, located in Concord, California. In her four-year tenure there, she led several school-wide initiatives impacting student performance, increased parent involvement and student attendance while decreasing behavior-related infractions, according to her resume.
In the same district, Raichoudhuri also served as director of special projects, designing and leading a pilot program to launch school-based teacher leadership development and leading a cohort of teachers.
In 2010, Raichoudhuri moved to Chicago and began working in the city school district as a senior manager in its office of performance. Later, she became director of the office of professional learning, where she developed the professional development system for district leaders.
In 2012, she became resident principal at Wells Community Academy High School. There she worked to improve classroom instruction and student attendance and behavior through social-emotional learning and worked with the school’s family engagement coordinator to increase family and community involvement, according to her resume.
During her tenure as principal at the high school, from 2013 to 2017, Raichoudhuri helped bring the school off of state probation by increasing the attendance rate from 63% to 92%, the graduation rate from 55% to 73% and the college persistence rate from 43% to 52%, according to her resume. In the same time, she decreased the drop-out rate from 16% to 4%.
Board member Tandy Moore applauded the new superintendent’s history of engaging all stakeholders in decision making and information sharing. She also expressed support for Raichoudhuri’s use of restorative practices with the necessary support and resources for teachers.
Board Treasurer Ken Greschak said Raichoudhuri was passionate and took a holistic approach to helping students and teachers.
“She made a point that her teachers need to be happy and healthy,” Greschak said.
In her current role as director of early college and career education, Raichoudhuri facilitated and implemented STEM learning environments and established secondary-to-employment pipelines by offering college credit and professional credentials.
She led the establishment of Jumpstart to Jobs and FastTrack programs in collaboration with the City Colleges of Chicago, which both helped better prepare students for success after high school with opportunities for paid internships or early college credit, her resume states. Raichoudhuri also established the district apprenticeship system called Career Launch Chicago and the teacher pipeline program called Teach Chicago, which guaranteed students a teaching job in CPS after they completed the program.
Prior to her interview in Kalamazoo, Raichoudhuri presented to the board her “entry plan philosophy and approach” to explain how she would approach the first few months as superintendent.
Raichoudhuri met with school administrators and teachers and visited classrooms at four schools during the day Monday. Meeting with various stakeholders would be her first step as superintendent, she said. She would want to hear what is working and what could be improved on, and take measures to be sure the district is “trending in the right direction,” Raichoudhuri said.
Learning from stakeholders is part of building trust and transparency in the first few months of being a new superintendent, she said. All of the steps she would take as a new superintendent are done with “an eye toward continuous district improvement," she said during her presentation.
“Decisions are made jointly primarily because everyone has blind spots," Raichoudhuri said.
Raichoudhuri spoke about the importance of not only recruiting teachers, but also retaining them by nurturing teachers and being sure they feel valued.
She gave examples of how she increased the graduation rate of African American male students in Chicago and addressed the school-to-prison pipeline. In Chicago, Raichoudhuri said, school leaders must overcome gun violence in the city to help students go from “hopelessness to hopefulness."
Raichoudhuri also addressed her support for LGBTQ students and spoke against Michigan’s Third Grade Reading Law that says students can be held back if they are not reading at their appropriate grade level.
The new superintendent was one of two candidates chosen as finalists after second-round interviews Feb. 5 and 6.
The second finalist, Efe Agbamu, is the assistant superintendent of schools at St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota. She interviewed with the board Wednesday, Feb. 19, after meeting with members of the public at a community open house.
The search for a new superintendent began in May after longtime district leader Michael Rice was chosen as Michigan’s new state superintendent. The district chose Gary Start, deputy superintendent of business and finance, to serve as interim superintendent while the board conducted a search with help from the Michigan Association of School Boards.
The board will now begin contract negotiations with the new superintendent. The anticipated start date for Raichoudhuri is July 1, said Greg Sieszputowski, director of leadership development and executive search services at MASB.