Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has submitted her resignation to Gov. Tim Walz.
Walz announced Tuesday, March 9, that he had accepted Ricker's Monday resignation and has appointed Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller to serve in Ricker's place beginning April 1.
In a letter to Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Ricker said, "Watching the indefatigable work of Minnesota's educators (during the pandemic), I feel the pull to spend my time and energy in classrooms working safely alongside them helping students. As we well know, this pandemic is not impacting all our students and their families equally. Gaps and disparities that already existed have deepened. We all have a role in closing gaps and ending disparities and I am drawn to a role to provide more direct service and support to our students and educators this spring."
Ricker, a Hibbing, Minn., native, did not specify in her letter where she would be headed or what her next job would be, but did say she was "excited about the opportunities ahead" and was looking forward to "sharing the details of a new role in the coming months."
Walz thanked Ricker in a news release for dedicating her entire career to "Minnesota's students and families."
"This year, more than ever, I am grateful for her leadership in navigating this unprecedented time as we asked our school communities to do the unimaginable," Walz said. "Her service to the Department of Education and to our administration will be missed, but I know our state's students will continue to benefit from her leadership."
Ricker spent over a decade as a middle school English teacher. She previously served as executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and as the president of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 28. Ricker was also Minnesota's first National Board Certified teacher to serve as commissioner.
"As a classroom teacher, a leader in my unions, and as Minnesota’s education commissioner, it has been an honor in my professional journey to serve Minnesota’s public schools’ students, families, school leaders, educators and staff,” Ricker said in a news release. “Through my experiences, I learned the power of listening and working together to improve people’s lives. I am motivated by Minnesota’s students and inspired every day by the many talented, hard-working educators and staff dedicated to the success of Minnesota’s children, and it has been a privilege to work alongside them."
Ricker's last day will be March 19, with Mueller officially starting in the position of education commissioner April 1.
"Heather is deeply committed to the success of our students, families, and schools, and there is no better person to lead our state at this critical moment," Walz said.
Mueller started her career at Mankato Area Public Schools in August 1997 as a high school social studies teacher. During her 24-year career in education, she was a classroom teacher for 11 years, then worked as a continuous improvement coach, professional development coordinator and the director of teacher and learning.
Previously at the Minnesota Department of Education, Mueller served as assistant commissioner, leading the Office of Teaching and Learning, and overseeing many divisions with in the education department.
Mueller earned her doctor of education in leadership degree, with an emphasis in organizational analysis and change, from St. Mary’s University. She earned her specialist and K-12 administrative license, master’s degree in educational leadership, and a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Minnesota State University-Mankato.
"It is an honor to step into the role of commissioner of education and to continue serving our students, families, educators, state librarians and school communities," Mueller said. "Minnesota’s students and teachers have shown resiliency and perseverance this past year, and I look forward to partnering with our school communities to meet their diverse needs as we recover from this pandemic and continue building the best education system in the nation for each and every student in Minnesota."