JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Almost a year after being ousted by former Missouri governor Eric Greitens, Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven has her job back.
"It's an honor to return to this role and I remain committed to doing what's best for the children in this state," Vandeven said during a press conference last week.
The State Board of Education announced Nov. 20 that Vandeven had been hired to return to her role as commissioner for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Of four final candidates, whom board president Charles Shields described as "extremely qualified," Vandeven was selected by unanimous vote.
Area school district superintendents applauded the move to reappoint Vandeven, who was initially appointed commissioner in 2015 following a 25-year career in education.
"As district leaders, we are always happy to see qualified individuals leading the way," New Bloomfield Superintendent Sarah Wisdom said. "Vandeven continues to have many supporters in education for her endless work on uniting educators for the betterment of the students we serve."
South Callaway Superintendent Kevin Hillman said Vandeven had "tremendous success" during her first, abbreviated term as commissioner.
"I am so very happy to see that she was appointed and accepted the position again," he said. "I cannot imagine a better candidate for that position at this time."
Missouri governor Mike Parson also voiced approval.
"Missouri's independent State Board of Education, through their selection process, unanimously chose a new commissioner of education,"Parson said last week. "Moving forward, we will continue working with Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to focus efforts on ensuring our students have the skills to succeed and meet the demands of tomorrow's workforce."
Fulton Superintendent Jacque Cowherd, meanwhile, hopes Vandeven's reappointment will signal an end to the political turmoil that roiled DESE during Greitens' governorship.
"I am optimistic stability will return to the department and education will move forward for all students in Missouri," he said.
Missouri has rules in place aimed at keeping the eight-person Missouri Board of Education neutral. For example, no more than four commissioners may belong to the same political party, and members may not be from the same county or congressional district.
However, during his time as governor, Greitens attempted to fill the board with members in hopes of firing Vandeven. He succeeded on Dec. 1 after making five appointments to the board. The Missouri Senate refused to confirm his appointees, leaving the board without a quorum for months.
Since taking over as governor in June, Parson has successfully made four appointments to the board.
"When he became governor, one of the first things he wanted to do was restore the state board of education," Shields said.
During a Nov. 20 conference call, Vandeven and Shields didn't spend much time looking backward.
"For the board this was never about righting a wrong," Shields said. "What happened last fall and culminated in December was a troubling time for the state. But this was about the ability to move the state forward."
For Vandeven's part, she said she hoped the state remembered the lessons learned during last year's kerfuffle.
"I don't hold any grudges at this point," she added.
She praised the work of Roger Dorson, who is acting as the interim commissioner of education and will continue to do so until Vandeven takes over on Jan. 2.
Vandeven also looks forward to building a healthy working relationship with Parson, whom she knew during his time as a senator, she said.
She said she's excited and humbled to be reappointed.
"There are a lot of challenges that we face in education in our state," Shields said. "Having someone with experience in the role and ability to hit the ground running was important."
Vandeven is already planning how to do exactly that.
"Our children need a lot of support," she said. "It will be imperative that we work together not only as an education community but as a state."
She said she's aware the world didn't stop on Dec. 1, and will spend some time getting brought up to speed on DESE's progress since that time. Reviewing recently passed legislation related to STEM education and going over the budget "with a fine-toothed comb" are among the priorities.
Improving statewide access to good teachers and mental health-related services are also top priorities.
"I'm a strong believer that we need a great teacher in every classroom, and in order to do that we need great leaders in every school," Vandeven said.
Vandeven began her education career in 1990 as a communication arts teacher in O'Fallon. She served as a teacher and administrator in Missouri and Maryland until 2005, when she went to work for DESE.
As commissioner, she will serve as chief executive officer to the board and as director of DESE. She will help guide the department's strategic priorities and lead the implementation of new programs and initiatives. She must also work closely with the legislature.
DESE's job description defines the commissioner as the "lead educational agent responsible for Missouri's students."