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State Board of Education hears testimony on desired commissioner traits

State Board of Education hears testimony on desired commissioner traits

January 9th, 2018 by Bob Watson in News

Board members, from left, A. Victor Lenz, Charlie Shields and Michael Jones listen to comments Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, during a public hearing at the State Board of Education. The hearing was scheduled for the hiring of a new commissioner of education for the state of Missouri.

Photo by Julie Smith /Fulton Sun.

The State Board of Education's three remaining seated members met Monday to hear public testimony on what qualifications people of the state would like to see in a new state education commissioner.

The most recent state education commissioner — Margie Vandeven — was fired last month in a 5-3 vote by the board that was decided along the lines of whether a member was appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens.

Greitens repealed and resubmitted his five appointees for the State Board last week, which means the board is without a quorum until the state Senate can confirm the appointees sometime before the end of the current legislative session.

In the meantime, President Charlie Shields, Vice President Vic Lenz and member Michael Jones heard public testimony Monday at the previously scheduled hearing.

The more than two dozen people who testified included leaders of statewide education organizations, school choice advocates, students, students' parents, superintendents, a state representative, and current and former teachers. The board will also accept written testimony at commissionersearch@dese.mo.gov.

The specific hopes and concerns of people who testified varied, but at least several people shared the values they desired in a commissioner would include proactive communication with education stakeholders, transparency, respect of local control of education and a student-centered focus.

"It is the responsibility of the commissioner to see that the highest-quality education is available to all students in all communities — rural, urban, suburban — regardless of race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender or disability," said Jan Mees, president of the Missouri School Board Association. Other people who testified echoed this sentiment, and did not want the specific communities they represented or said they work for to be forgotten.

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School choice advocate Peter Franzen questioned the fundamental model of public education as it exists in the state today. "Technology is changing at a mind-bending pace, but our educational models have not kept up," Franzen said, adding a new commissioner ought to be open to solutions that might not necessarily be found in the schools students are assigned to by where they live or how old they are. Franzen is the associate executive director of Children's Education Alliance of Missouri.

School choice was among several topical education issues of the past several years that came up in testimony, with other issues that included accountability for charter schools and support or opposition to Common Core educational standards.

Sarah Potter, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education communications coordinator, said at the end of the hearing at about 3:30 p.m. the department had received four applications for the open position of commissioner, but that number had increased to 10 by the time a DESE news release was sent a little before 5 p.m.

The whole process of selecting a commissioner is essentially stalled until the State Board has a quorum. The application process ended Monday, as designated by the State Board last month.

Shields said the names of applicants would not be made public until finalists are decided.

"How we proceed after this really depends on when we have a board quorum. We need five members to decide how to proceed, and whether that means to create and reopen the search process, which I consider to be highly likely," he said.

"We're in somewhat uncharted waters," he added.

Potter said in the news release the audio transcript of the Monday hearing will be available on DESE's website "in the next two days."

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