Alabama Schools Chief Michael Sentance Resigns

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Alabama Department of Education

After one year on the job, State Superintendent of Education Michael Sentance abruptly resigned Wednesday. His contract had been on the agenda for the State Board of Education meeting scheduled for the following day.

“I am humbled and appreciative of the opportunity to serve as state superintendent,” Sentance said in a statement from the Alabama State Department of Education. “There are many good things happening in public education in this state. My hope is that Alabama makes educating all children the state’s highest priority, allowing the state to make significant educational gains and truly becoming the jewel of the south that it has the ability to become.”

Sentance has come under fire from teachers, school administrators, and recently, from the Jefferson County branch of the American Federation of Teachers, which passed a resolution Tuesday calling for the state board to fire him.

“Sentance has been on the job for a year now and his tenure has been a dismal failure,” said Marrianne Hayward, branch president. “He has gone out of his way to belittle our teachers and to harm proven programs such as the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative and Career Tech.”

Hayward and others have underscored Sentance’s lack of experience in education; he was never a teacher, principal or superintendent. And what many educators called his poor communication skills were another source of criticism, even from some of his allies on the board, a shortcoming Sentance himself has acknowledged. The board gave him low marks in a performance evaluation in July.

Sentance’s supporters point to ambitious efforts in his short tenure, including writing a new strategic plan and moving Alabama toward its own state test to measure academic achievement.

“I do not take this situation lightly, and I will ask the Board to accept his resignation,” Gov. Kay Ivey, president of the state school board, said in a statement. “Over the past two years, Alabama has experienced far too many changes in state government. As with previous changes in leadership positions, we will use [this] as an opportunity to move forward and begin a new chapter in public education.”

Ivey said she thanked Sentance for his commitment to public service and wished him well.

The conservative nonprofit Alabama Policy Institute had defended Sentance in recent months and released a statement Wednesday saying, “… we are saddened to hear that Michael Sentance was forced to resign as Alabama State Superintendent of Education. We see this as a massive setback for education in Alabama. This is not about Sentance. This is about many individuals in our state who like their starting position on a last-place team. As a state, we have to change this mentality. If we do not, we will never improve, and we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.”

Sentance’s tenure was controversial from the start: he was hired over Craig Pouncey, a former ALSDE administrator who was popular with teachers.

Before coming to Alabama last year, Sentance worked as an education consultant, in the U.S. Department of Education, and as Secretary of Education in Massachusetts.

According to ALSDE, Sentance’s resignation is effective immediately, and succession plans could be discussed at Thursday’s board meeting.

For WBHM reporter Sherrel Stewart’s January interview with Sentance, click here