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Alabama’s governor describes the search process with the board set to vote on a new state superintendent April 20.
Wochit

The search for Alabama’s next state superintendent of education has been narrowed to four.

All three candidates from Alabama — Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Craig Pouncey, Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy, and School Superintendents of Alabama Executive Director Eric Mackey — made the cut as well as Robert Scott, the former education commissioner of Texas.

All four will be interviewed by the board beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, April 20, after which a selection will be made. 

Most notable is the inclusion of Pouncey who is involved in an ongoing lawsuit against state board member Mary Scott Hunter. Pouncey, the favorite for the state superintendent job in 2016, accused Hunter of costing him the position by mishandling an ethics complaint during his interview process. Pouncey was runner-up after the state board selected former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Michael Sentance on a 5-4 vote  The trial for the lawsuit is scheduled for December.

Hunter did not recuse herself from the voting Friday. Pouncey also entered his name in the 2011 state superintendent search.

Murphy has been head of Hoover City Schools and the system’s 14,000 students for the past three years. She was previously the superintendent of Monroe County Schools and is the only female finalist. 

Mackey was superintendent of Jacksonville City Schools before assuming the directorship of School Superintendents of Alabama, a non-profit lobbying and education advocacy group.

Scott has the most top-level administrative experience, having overseen students in the country’s largest continental state as Texas’ longest serving commissioner of education. 

Gary Ray, president of the search firm Ray and Associates, said he talked to a number of Texas superintendents about Scott.

“He has an excellent track record in the area of working with superintendents,” Ray said.  

Unlike the last superintendent search, the board utilized a “matrix” system offered by the search firm. The State Board of Education, including Gov. Kay Ivey, ranked each candidate against each other candidate in a bracket-style system.

“I didn’t know what to expect from this but I liked your method. It made sense,” said District 2’s Betty Peters. 

Board Vice President Stephanie Bell called the process “fair and thorough.” As for the finalists, Bell said she’s looking for someone who “knows Alabama” and someone who is “familiar” with the Montgomery Public Schools intervention.

Washington County (Tenn.) Superintendent Kimber Halliburton, Beaufort County (S.C.) Superintendent Jeff Moss, and North Carolina Deputy State Superintendent Maria Pitre-Martin were the three semi-finalists who were not selected. Ray and Associates received 41 applications total. 

Whoever is selected will oversee a state that has not improved much since Alabama’s NAEP scores — also called The Nation’s Report Card — prompted then-Gov. Robert Bentley to declare that Alabama’s education system “sucks.”

Bentley was responding to Alabama 4th-graders ranking 51st in the nation in math proficiency. The state’s 8th and 12th grade scores were also near the bottom. 

The state has marginally improved and is now seventh-worst nationally behind Puerto Rico, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alaska, District of Columbia and Nevada, according to NAEP stats for 2017.

Massachusetts is still No. 1, as it was when Bentley applauded the decision to hire Sentance from the state. 

Sentance initiated the Montgomery intervention but resigned after about a year due to push back from a Montgomery school board that felt it was left out of the intervention process and a state school board that felt he operated too autonomously. 

Whoever is selected will inherit an intervention that is seemingly spinning its wheels in a quagmire of litigation and local board opposition as layoffs, outsourcing and potential loss of accreditation loom for the capital city school system.

“Do you think that’s influencing the applications for this job? Sure,” said interim state superintendent Ed Richardson, who has been helming the state department and the intervention since Sentance’s resignation. “They know it’s a big time problem and they know they’re going to have to deal with it.”

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