Alabama has named its new superintendent of public schools as Michael Sentance, former Secretary of Education in Massachusetts. Sentance was voted into office by five of the members of the nine-member board after being nominated for the second time.
The new superintendent was one of six being considered for the position and interviewed last week. Sentance will be replacing Tommy Bice, who retired after more than four years in the position.
In the 1990s, Sentance was the education policy adviser for Massachusetts Governors William Weld and Paul Celluci, for whom he wrote reform legislation and assisted in the growth of charter schools.
"Mr. Sentance, I think, brings something unique to the state," Governor Robert Bentley said. "Massachusetts is the number one state in the country in education. Test scores show that. We're not number one, obviously. But we would like to be."
Bentley added that changes need to be made because every Alabama child should have the same opportunities as the students in Massachusetts. Alabama currently ranks at or near the bottom of state ratings for academic performance, according to Mike Cason writing for the Alabama Media Group.
One of Sentance's rivals for the position was Craig Pouncey, who has worked in Alabama schools for 37 years. Pouncey had this to say about Mr. Sentance:
"I'd like to see Mr. Sentance find the dirt roads of Alabama, the kids that don't have anybody to speak for them. Because it's a whole different world than Massachusetts."
Board member Stephanie Bell said she knew about Sentance's successes, and she is sure that he will build the necessary bridges needed to make significant changes in Alabama.
The question being asked by many is why the board voted for a candidate who is not an educator. In 1980, after Sentance attended law school, he served as Legal Counsel for Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Thomas P. O'Neill, III. Later, he held assorted positions in the Massachusetts state government before he served as Undersecretary of Education for Policy & Planning under Gov. William Weld.
Sentance led a regional office in the US Department of Education from 2001 to 2009.
Some say the vote went to Sentance because of a smear campaign against fellow candidate Pouncey that accused him of plagiarizing when writing his dissertation.
At a Business Council of Alabama conference, Mary Scott Hunter voiced her opinion that Sentance was "an attractive candidate." She later encouraged Sentance to stay in the race. The assumption circulated that Hunter had something to do with the Pouncey mud-slinging incident, reports Bill Britt for the Alabama Political Reporter.
Some lawmakers want to see the process investigated, particularly Hunter's role in an anonymous letter sent to the Ethics Committee concerning Pouncey's alleged cheating.
"We're going to give someone a chance to come in and see if they can't bring some different ideas and some possible changes to make education for the children of this state better," Governor Bentley said.
Sentance played a part in beginning one of the most successful K-12 reforms in the nation. Sentance's list of core beliefs includes ensuring that academic standards are created by the best public school educators and the most qualified professors from universities in the state, writes WIAT-TV.
If measures are carefully crafted, they can raise the achievement of the state's students. He feels that standardized tests can take away from the focus on educating. Teachers, he adds, must be well-prepared to teach the high-level content of the exams.
Sentance says that accountability systems should not be in place just for accruing data, but should be used to improve the teaching profession, and that the finance system for districts and states must be equitable and stable.