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State Board Taps Consultant for New Schools Chief

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The Alabama State Board of Education

It took repeated tries, but today the state school board named Michael Sentance, a consultant and former Massachusetts Secretary of Education, its choice to be new Alabama Superintendent.

After extensively debating the best voting procedure and cycling through six rounds of balloting that did not yield the required five-person majority, the state school board eventually voted for Sentance the second time his candidacy came up. He was chosen over five other finalists.

Michael Sentance.
State Board of Education

Michael Sentance

Sentance favors internationally benchmarked standards, stringent teacher preparation, merit pay, and charter schools. He does not support Common Core. He’s worked for the U.S. Department of Education, advised New England governors, helped get books to poor students, and consulted on education policy around the country.

Sentance does not have an education degree or experience running schools. He does have law degrees and was once Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General. The school board’s selection surprised some for other reasons too: Sentance is not from Alabama, and he was not the board’s leaders’ first choice. Governor Robert Bentley, board president by virtue of his elected position, had nominated Jeana Ross, head of the state Department of Early Childhood Education. And board vice president Dr. Yvette Richardson, along with many educators, supported Jefferson County Schools Superintendent and former Deputy State Superintendent Craig Pouncey.

“I felt that we needed someone who had experience as a superintendent, and Mr. Sentance does not have that experience,” she says. “That was my biggest concern, along with the fact that someone from the state of Alabama would know our needs better. I feel Mr. Sentance will get here and learn. But it’s a lot easier for you to know what the needs are than having to spend a year trying to figure out what they are.”

But Richardson struck a hopeful note, adding, “We’re really looking for someone who is going to set high expectations for students and work with our teachers to have them prepared to get where we’re trying to get them to go.”

Her board subcommittee still has to present a contract for the full board’s approval, possibly next month. Assuming Sentance agrees to its terms, he’ll soon after take over leadership of the Alabama State Department of Education.

This report was produced by Sherrel Stewart and Dan Carsen.