For Jefferson County Superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncey, as the saying goes, the third time may be the charm.
Pouncey said he told Jefferson County board members on Monday that he applied for the state superintendent position, left open after Michael Sentance resigned in September. Interim state Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson, who served as state superintendent from 1995 until 2004, is currently serving in the position.
This will be the third time Pouncey has applied for the job. Asked why he chose to apply, Pouncey said in a statement to AL.com, “I have always valued the importance of public education. It serves as the foundation of our democracy. If we hope to continue our successes as a state, we must ensure we produce an educated citizenry.”
Pouncey has spent 38 years working in public education in Alabama and as Jefferson County’s superintendent was named Superintendent of the Year in October by peers in the School Superintendents of Alabama organization.
From 2003 to 2014, Pouncey worked at the Alabama State Department of Education in administrative roles including Chief State School Financial Officer and Chief of Staff.
Pouncey became Superintendent in Jefferson County in 2014 in the midst of an effort by Gardendale to break away from the county to form a city school district. In February, after a federal Court of Appeals reasoned Gardendale should not be allowed to break away from the county, Gardendale officials gave up their effort.
The national firm conducting the search, Ray and Associates, set the deadline for applications today at 5 p.m.
The first time Pouncey applied, in 2011, he was a finalist alongside Dr. Tommy Bice when both worked in administration at the Alabama State Department of Education. Bice was ultimately appointed to the position, and retired four years later in March 2016.
A spokesperson for the Council of Chief State School Officers provided AL.com a spreadsheet showing the average tenure of current chief education officers across the country is around two and a half years. The longest serving state superintendent is Wisconsin’s Tony Evers, who has been in the position for nearly nine years.
Pouncey again applied for the position and again became a finalist, but Sentance was appointed in a 5-4 vote in August 2016. A legislative committee conducted an inquiry into how education officials and the Ethics Commission handled an anonymous allegation that may have affected Pouncey not being chosen. The committee reached no conclusions but turned over their findings to the state Bar in July.
The allegation that Pouncey used his office for personal gain was proven false prior to the board voting to appoint Sentance to the top spot, but some, including Pouncey alleged the mishandling of that complaint cost Pouncey the job.
In February 2017, Pouncey filed a civil lawsuit alleging state board member Mary Scott Hunter, R-Huntsville, interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, General Counsel Juliana Dean and state department of education attorneys James Ward and Susan Crowther conspired to keep Pouncey from being appointed as state superintendent.
Circuit Judge Roman Shaul dismissed Cleveland, Dean and Crowther from the lawsuit in January, but the case is still pending.
On Friday, Dr. Carl Davis, Regional Search Director for Ray and Associates, couldn’t confirm that Pouncey applied, but said there has been great interest in the position.
“We’re very proud of the number of applicants for the job,” Davis said.
Davis said they haven’t yet reached the 70-plus number of applications they had hoped for, but there was still time, as the deadline for applications was Friday at 5 p.m.
Gary Ray, president of the search firm, told board member in January that a new superintendent could be seated by mid-April.
The next step, Davis said, is for the search firm to match the applicants to the criteria set by board members. He expects to bring eight to 10 candidates to the board for evaluation. Board members will then decide which candidates they hope to interview.
“There are some high-quality candidates,” Davis said, “and all you need is one.”
Note: this article was updated at 9:35 p.m. to correct the name of the longest-serving state superintendent to Wisconsin’s Tony Evers.