Kentucky Taps Stephen Pruitt as New Education Commissioner


Kentucky has a new education commissioner who will be paid $240,000 per year as part of a four-year contract. The state board of education finalized the contract this last week to appoint Stephen Pruitt at the helm of the state’s 675,000 public school students.

Pruitt will also be leading Kentucky’s next step in education reform. His job will begin October 16, writes Antoinette Konz for WDRB-TV. Pruitt said he was “honored, humbled, and ready to get to work.”

Pruitt will also receive up to $10,000 for moving expenses and a monthly stipend of $1,500 as he relocates over the next few months. He will be the state’s sixth education commissioner and will replace Terry Holliday, who was in office for six years and retired in August.

“From day one, I was impressed with the fact that he wanted to be in Kentucky and be a part of this work,” Chairman of the Board of Education Roger Marcum has said. “He sees this as the capstone of his career. He wants to be here a long time.”

Pruitt is coming on the scene two weeks after the public release of test scores for the 2014-2015 year which showed student performance remaining about the same as the last school year. The percentage of students scoring as proficient, however, increased in almost every subject and at every grade level compared to 2012 scores. The 2012 year was the first time students were tested by the state’s new accountability and testing system, Unbridled Learning.

Three generations of Pruitt’s family have been educators, but it took a while for Pruitt to discover his “true calling.” Pruitt will be leaving his position of vice president at Achieve, Inc., an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization, where he has been since 2010. Before this, he served as chief of staff, associate state superintendent, director of academic standards, and science and mathematics program manager with the Georgia Department of Education.

At Achieve, Pruitt was part of the development of the Next Generation Science Standards, academic guidelines put into practice by Kentucky teachers this year. The standards define what students should know before they finish each grade level. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C. have adopted the standards.

As far as the Common Core standards are concerned, the state intends to continue following the process started by Holliday. Pruitt says he will be doing a lot of listening.

“I am a big believer that you just don’t come in and make arbitrary changes, you need to learn the current situation and then use the best available research and advice and then you make a decision,” Pruitt said.

WKYT-TV’s Valerie Honeycutt Spears says Pruitt wants people to get tired of hearing how good the state’s schools are; wants Kentucky’s students to be able to do whatever they choose to do after they graduate; and he wants to streamline Kentucky’s accountability system and make it more understandable to the public.

Pruitt stated that he often spoke of shareholders instead of stakeholders. He explained that technically, a stakeholder is a person who holds the stake and might just get hammered if the guy swinging swings incorrectly. The commissioner would rather have shareholders who are invested, who care, and who work together to make things better. Brad Hughes of KyForward  quotes the education chief:

“I’m eager for the opportunity to work in a state that has shown such commitment and dedication to its kids – because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”

He also expressed his desire for collaborative efforts, pulling together, and getting the job done.