Despite public input, no Wyoming finalists for Dept. of Education jobBy Gregory Nickerson — June 10, 2013
While no one knows who Gov. Matt Mead will choose to be the next director of the Department of Education, one thing is certain: The leader will not come from Wyoming.
That unanticipated outcome comes at the hands of the State Board of Education, which gathered extensive public comment to develop a candidate profile. Back in March, the state board chose Ray and Associates from a slate of six consulting firms to head up the process. The company then conducted a survey asking stakeholders what kind of person they would like to see in the job. That brought 200 responses.
Ray and Associates developed the candidate profile through two public input sessions, and contacted more than 40 stakeholder groups. At every step of the process, they asked respondents if they could suggest anyone from Wyoming who ought to apply for the job. The consultants contacted more than 300 individuals in 45 states to ask if they’d be interested in applying. About 30 of those contacted were from Wyoming, according to State School Board member Sue Belish.
In the end, 84 people applied for the director position, with about a dozen from Wyoming.
“I was surprised at the people from Wyoming who did not apply,” said Belish. “When I looked at the list of 84 names who did apply, I did not think those people from Wyoming would have made it to the final list. I just didn’t think they had the experience.”
Ray and Associates offered recommendations for which candidates to interview. However, the State Board of Education had access to materials of all 84 finalists, and made the ultimate decision using input from public forums with the finalists.
Department of Education Interim Director Jim Rose was initially a finalist, but took his name out of the running because he prefers to go back to his job directing the Wyoming Community College Commission.
That left Gov. Mead with three out-of-state candidates to choose from: Tony Apostle, Richard Crandall, and Norman Ridder.
Apostle is a former superintendent from Pullayup, Washington, a city of 37,000 near Tacoma. Crandall is a state senator from Arizona and CEO of Crandall Corporate Dieticians, while Ridder is the superintendent of Public Schools in Springfield, Missouri. Both Apostle and Ridder have overseen school budgets of more than $200 million, while Crandall headed up a legislative committee on education.
Gov. Mead had hoped to select the new director by the end of last week, but he delayed the decision, saying he needed more time. “I was just thrilled with the passion of the people I interviewed which makes it a difficult choice,” Mead said. “I was very impressed with their passion and their desire to move to Wyoming.”
Mead may announce his selection as early as Wednesday June 12th, but the decision could be put off another week while he makes a trip to visit a coal port and an oil-sands project in Canada.
Mead said none of the three finalists are ignorant of the ongoing controversy surrounding the oversight of the Department of Education. In the last legislative session, lawmakers transferred management of the Department of Education from the Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill to the appointed director.
“[The three finalists] are aware of Senate File 104, and they say this looks like a great opportunity in Wyoming where you have continuous public support for education, where you are actively seeking the best way to do things,” Mead said.
Each biennium the state spends more than $1.6 billion in state and federal money on public education. In the last decade Wyoming has built dozens of new schools using coal lease bonuses from mineral leasing on federal lands.
Many people expect Wyoming’s public school system to improve in the quality of education delivered. “If it can’t be done in Wyoming I’m not sure where it can be done,” said Belish. “There are cities that have more kids than we do. We have resources — lots of resources. We have money, and people who care about education.”
At a recent hearing before a legislative committee, consultant Paige Fenton-Hughes said several of the out-of-state finalists commented on the camaraderie and lack of polarization among Wyoming’s State Board of Education. She noted in particular that the candidates couldn’t tell which board members were Republicans and which were Democrats. Finalists were impressed that the board members seemed to enjoy each others’ company, which apparently differed from their past experience.
“The board didn’t send to the governor any status quo lovers,” Fenton-Hughes said. “These are visionary folks. They are very forward thinking, and very different from each other.”
Belish said the interview process allowed for in-depth consideration of how well each candidate could manage a large, complex organization. It also allowed the board to analyze the candidates’ views on education, and to gauge whether each candidate would be able to cooperate with various constituents at the state and local level. “That is not something we typically ask candidates who run for [Superintendent of Public Instruction]. Being able to delve into those areas is a good thing,” Belish said.
The search process gives Belish hope that Wyoming will be able to develop a systematic approach to improving education across the state. “I think we are on the cusp of turning this new chapter and figuring out how we can all work toward the same end. Let’s have that discussion about what we expect a high school grad to know, and still have room for flexibility and innovation at the local level,” she said.— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.