The Kentucky Board of Education spent more than eight hours Wednesday interviewing and then discussing the finalists for state education commissioner but reached no agreement.
After the closed-door session in Lexington, Board Chairman Joe Brothers said the panel will continue to gather information and check the four finalists' backgrounds with the expectation of selecting a new commissioner on July 17 in Frankfort.
Brothers stressed that no favorite emerged during the interviews.
The four finalists are Terry Holliday, 58, superintendent of the Iredell-Statesville Public Schools in North Carolina; Catherine Cross Maple, 54, deputy cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department; Michael Sentance, 58, former New England regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education; and Dennis W. Cheek, 54, senior fellow with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo.
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All four told reporters at Wednesday's meeting that the Kentucky job is attractive because of the state's national reputation for education reform, and they said they would like to help carry reform forward.
But the first hint of an issue in the selection process surfaced Wednesday over a blog posting on Kentucky School News and Commentary concerning past writings by Cheek with an apparent creationist bent.
Brothers said that board members questioned Cheek about the matter during his interview and that Cheek assured them that he is "very comfortable with the evolution component."
Cheek told reporters outside the meeting that he had sent a reply to the blog. He said he believes evolution, not creationism, should be taught in science classes. He said he also supports the 2005 federal court ruling that struck down the teaching of "intelligent design" in science classes in Pennsylvania's Dover Area School District.
"What should be taught in school is exactly what the judge in the Dover case said. He was quite clear ... and I concur 100 percent with the decision that was made," Cheek said.
Cheek said that while people of various religious beliefs can differ on evolution, "when it comes to what is taught in the science curriculum, evolution can be demonstrated and seen in many different dimensions of science."
Sentance, who lives in Concord, Mass., described himself as an educational "pragmatist who is interested in what works."
He said he would bring "energy and ideas" to Kentucky and work to improve coordination between public schools and colleges to help more Kentucky youngsters reach and finish colleges.
Holliday, the 2009 School Superintendent of the Year in North Carolina, said he'd like to help implement Senate Bill 1, passed by the General Assembly this year, which calls for revamping testing and other areas of Kentucky's education system.
He said Kentucky educators must help the state's youngsters compete globally "without giving up what American education does extremely well ... the arts, work force development courses and athletics."
Maple said Kentuckians "took a stance" in favor of educational reform in the 1990s, adding, "I would consider it an honor" to help continue the reform in coming years.
"To be able to lead a state and its education system would be a wonderful opportunity," she said. "I'd love to be part of the mix here."