By Katie Lannan

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 27, 2017.....Longtime Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester died Monday evening after a short illness, the state's education board chairman announced at a Tuesday meeting.

"We were obviously stunned by his death and deeply saddened," Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Chair Paul Sagan said.

The board observed a moment of silence in memory of Chester and planned to conduct an abbreviated meeting to hold necessary votes, while delaying matters that were not time-sensitive out of respect for him.

Earlier this month, a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman told the News Service that Chester had temporarily cut back on his schedule due to medical reasons, with Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson fulfilling the commissioner's duties with help from other senior staff.

Chester was selected by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to oversee the K-12 school system in 2008. He began his career as an elementary school teacher in Connecticut and then worked at the Connecticut State Education Department. He also worked for the School District of Philadelphia and immediately prior to joining DESE he was the Ohio Department of Education's senior associate superintendent for policy and accountability.

Education Secretary Jim Peyser said Chester leaves a "legacy that will stand for many, many years and generations."

"We've been blessed in Massachusetts having two long-serving commissioners, who have seen us through from the beginning of education reform to this day," Peyser said at the meeting. "In some ways, a lot of attention gets paid to the leadership when change is beginning to happen, but when all is said and done it's the leaders who take us through, over time, to sustain the changes and to bring them to the next level that make those changes permanent and that deliver the kind of impact on children, families and people's lives that have lasting and deeper effects. I think Mitchell was that leader for us, and we were very lucky and blessed to have him with us."

The board appointed Wulfson as acting commissioner Tuesday morning. He said he is "ready to do anything I can during this difficult time" and said the department would "dedicate ourselves to continuing the great work that [Chester] led us in."

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