With the Kentucky Board of Education ready to interview finalists for state education commissioner on Wednesday, there are some background rumblings over the lack of a Kentuckian among the four remaining candidates.
The four finalists are Catherine Cross Maple, deputy cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Public Education Department; Michael Sentance, former New England regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education; Dennis Cheek, senior fellow with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; and Terry Holliday, superintendent of the Iredell-Statesville Schools in North Carolina.
The board plans to interview all four individually at a meeting on Wednesday. Board chairman Joe Brothers said Monday that the meeting will be held in Lexington.
Brothers said the board has set July 17 as a target date for making a final selection.
Meanwhile, some apparently think a Kentuckian should have been on the final list.
Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, sent a e-mail to association members Friday afternoon saying the association's executive committee was "concerned" that no one from Kentucky had made the final cut. In his e-mail, Sears encouraged any association members who shared that concern to express it to members of the state education board.
"We will support the person who is named," Sears said Monday. "We're not going to be contentious in any way; it's just that we felt there were quality leaders in this state who could step right in and hit the ground running."
Daviess County School Superintendent Tom Shelton has acknowledged that he applied to be education commissioner. He was one of 12 candidates interviewed by the state school board last month, but he did not make the list of four finalists. Sears said he thinks at least one other person from Kentucky applied, but he gave no names.
"We have several superintendents, not just one or two, that are extremely capable, some of whom I assume applied," Sears said. "I think that I speak generally for superintendents across the state that we felt the time had come that one of our own was very capable of assuming this position."
The new education commissioner will succeed Jon Draud, who stepped down for health reasons. Draud was a state legislator and Northern Kentucky school superintendent before becoming commissioner.
Shelton, the Daviess County superintendent, said he thought that having a Kentucky superintendent as education commissioner would have offered some advantages.
"I applied because I believed then, and I believe now, that a Kentucky superintendent is the most logical person for that position," he said.
Shelton said he had been willing to commit to 10 years in the post, contending that longevity is needed. He noted that the new commissioner will face several immediate tasks, including the development of a new statewide student testing system and new educational standards.
Shelton said that when the four finalists were announced last Friday he was advised that he wasn't selected because the state board "felt like they needed someone with more of a national level of exposure and experience beyond what we've seen in Kentucky."
Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, said Monday that he has heard some expressions of disappointment.
"I think it would be fair to say there's some disappointment that the list did not include some folks from within the state," Young said. "That's understandable, and not surprising."
Young said that during the search for commissioner candidates he spoke with the search firm that the state hired to assist in the process. He said he advised the firm that the new commissioner should be "someone who could hit the ground running."
Young said that all of the four finalists "certainly seem to be qualified, and I'm sure they're all fine people."
"What strikes me and people who have contacted is the thought that some of our own folks were equally qualified," he said. "We'll be pleased to work with the new commissioner, whoever it is. But I'd be less than candid if I didn't say some people out there are kind of scratching their heads."
Brothers said Monday that some "very strong Kentucky candidates" were among the applicants for commissioner, and "the board would have been very pleased to have seen some of them among the finalists."
The pool of candidates was "very competitive," and making selections was difficult, he said.
"The bottom line is, when you go through a process like this you try to do it fairly and equitably," Brothers said. "When we came to the end of the process, the top candidates weren't from Kentucky."