In January, Lester W. Young, Jr. ’73 was named the New York State Board of Regents chancellor, the first African American to be elected to the position, which oversees all educational activities in the state and sets policies for the State University of New York as well as the New York State Education Department, with its more than 700 school districts.

It’s a huge job. He says his education prepared him well.

“Much of my early exposure to sound pedagogical practice comes from Brooklyn College,” says Young, who earned an M.S.Ed. and teacher and guidance counselor certificates. “The skills and knowledge I learned at Brooklyn College remain with me today—and they still help to inform my thinking about what is possible for our schoolchildren and how we can best prepare them for successful lives.”

Young, the son of jazz tenor saxophone legend Lester Young, has had his own illustrious career, parlaying what started as a teaching job in New York City’s public schools in 1969 into greater leadership positions. He became principal of an Ocean Hill-Brownsville public school that won national recognition under his tenure. He went on to work for the state’s Education Department, with a portfolio that gave him responsibility for bilingual education, migrant services, community schools, and school improvement. He also has served as a district superintendent in Brooklyn, where he is credited with creating sought-after schools in what had once been seen as the poor stepchild to neighboring school districts. Additionally, he has taught at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus.

Along the way, he sat on numerous community boards, served as a mentor to principals and others in leadership roles, and won many awards, cementing a reputation as an innovative, can-do educator and winning praise from education advocacy groups, teachers unions, and politicians alike.

He was appointed by the state Legislature to the Regents in 2008 and then unanimously elected chancellor at the beginning of this year, taking over at a time when the state’s education system is reeling from the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic, budget cuts, and equity gaps, among a number of big issues. He says he is cognizant that the state leadership’s response to these issues could transform the current education systems.

“Like my colleagues on the Board of Regents, I am committed to ensuring educational equity for all of New York’s students,” he says. “But we must move beyond the rhetoric and begin to rethink our existing systems of education so that all children have a real chance for success in life. Our collective response requires an approach that is comprehensive, coherent, and based on sound pedagogy.”