Greenwich businessman Steven J. Simmons will head a new state commission to tackle the problem of poor academic performance among low-income and minority children, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced today.

The Commission on Educational Achievement, consisting of 11 business leaders and other professionals, will conduct hearings, visit public schools and review research to address the issue, one of the most pressing problems facing educators in Connecticut and across the nation.

Of the 50 states, Connecticut has the largest achievement gap separating low-income children from their more well-to-do classmates on U.S. Department of Education tests of reading and mathematics. The gap separating minority and white students also is among the largest in the nation.

Simmons, a cable TV executive and founder of Simmons/Patriot Media and Communications, is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School and is the author of several children’s books. “I felt as an individual citizen it was my obligation to try and do something about this critical issue,” he said in a press release from the governor’s office.

In the release, Rell linked education to the state’s economic and social success and said Connecticut’s workforce “must be inclusive of every child in every neighborhood.” She said the commission consists of leaders “who have achieved success in a number of fields and, most importantly, those who have a passionate interest in helping all of our children succeed.”

Other members of the commission include: Ramani Ayer, retired chairman and CEO, The Hartford; David Carson, retired chairman and CEO, Peoples Bank, Bridgeport; Roxanne Cody, president and founder of R.J. Julia Booksellers; William Ginsberg, president and CEO, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven; Carla Klein, former teacher and member of the Bridgeport Public Education Fund; Yvette Melendez, board member of The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and former chief of staff of the Connecticut State University System; Peyton Patterson, chairman, president and CEO, New Alliance Bank, New Haven; Steve Preston, president and CEO of Oakleaf Waste; John Rathgeber, president and CEO, Connecticut Business & Industry Association; Dudley N. Williams, Jr., Director of district education strategy, GE Asset Management Group.

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