Former Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt has been hired as president of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board that works with 16 states, including Kentucky, to improve public education from pre-K through post-secondary.
In an announcement on Thursday, Southern Regional Education Board officials said the group's executive board unanimously selected Pruitt, 49, after a months-long nationwide search. He begins in July.
Pruitt resigned as Kentucky Education Commissioner in April when the Kentucky Board of Education, which included several members that had been appointed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin one day before, called a meeting to discuss whether Pruitt would continue in the position. Pruitt had widespread support from education groups.
Board members said Pruitt's performance was not at issue, but they wanted to go in a new direction. They hired charter school advocate Wayne D. Lewis as interim commissioner the same day.
The Kentucky Attorney General's office has since ruled that the state board of education violated the Open Meetings Act that day by talking in a closed session about changes to Pruitt's contract, the Associated Press reported.
Bevin is one of the Kentucky members of the Southern Regional Education Board, according to the organization's website.
Pruitt said on Thursday that the Southern Regional Education Board has been a driving force in improving education for 70 years and that he will work to make sure students have access to an equitable and rigorous education that prepares them for their careers.
"The work is around education policy, around focusing on equity and providing students with an excellent education," he told the Herald-Leader. "I get to continue to work with people that I've gotten to know both here in Kentucky and when I was working on a national level. It's just a real exciting time."
Pruitt, who was hired as Kentucky's education commissioner in 2015, said his time leading the state department of education "was one of the highlights of my life."
"I'll forever be grateful to the educators and the stakeholders I got to know. It's a time I'll never forget and I'm glad I have an opportunity to support them even though it will be at a little more of a distance, " Pruitt said. The Southern Regional Education Board provides research assistance and does a good bit of work supporting middle schools and high schools, he said.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, chair of the Southern Regional Education board, said in a statement that Pruitt had amassed an extensive policy, assessment and instructional background in education that would benefit the board.
“This is the only regional organization that encourages collaboration among governors, legislators and state education leaders when it comes to implementing sound policies that positively impact children from early childhood through postsecondary education, and I look forward to working with Dr. Pruitt in building on its success," Edwards said.