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Gov. Phil Scott’s administrative team includes leaders from former governors Jim Douglas and Peter Shumlin
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MONTPELIER – Vermont’s search for a new secretary of education will give greater weight to private-sector experience than in the past after Gov. Phil Scott downplayed the need for applicants to have a background in education management.

State law is clear that anyone who leads the Agency of Education must have “expertise in education management and policy.” The State Board of Education, which is responsible for vetting candidates, says it will will reject any applicants who fail this test.

The governor, who will make the final hiring decision, wants to cast a wide net. 

“I ask that when you evaluate candidates, you prioritize applicants who, above all else, have experience managing complex issues (not necessarily in education),” Scott wrote Monday in a letter to the State Board of Education, the day after Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe’s resignation took effect.

More: Vermont education secretary Holcombe: ‘Time to move on’

The board responded to the governor’s request by updating its list of “preferred qualifications” for the job.

Applicants will no longer be asked to have a master’s degree in education and at least 10 years of experience in public educational management, as they were during the 2016 education secretary search. 

This time, applicants will be asked to show “executive and leadership experience” in addition to experience with state and local governments, according to a draft list of qualifications.

Applicants will also be asked to show expertise in working on “public and/or business policy issues.”

Language about private-sector experience was added in response to the governor’s letter, Krista Huling, chairwoman of the State Board of Education, said during a secretary search committee meeting Wednesday.

Other criteria include knowledge of K-12 public education policy and practice, familiarity with Vermont’s school governance structures, knowledge of education finance issues, and communication skills.

Vermont’s previous school chiefs have brought extensive education experience to the job. 

Former Secretary Holcombe, who resigned last week, was the head of Dartmouth College’s teacher training program when she was hired as state education secretary in 2013. She graduated from Simmons Schools of Management and the Harvard Graduate School of Education and worked as a teacher, elementary school principal and school administrator.

Armando Vilaseca, who served as state education commissioner from 2008 to 2013, then interim education secretary until January 2014, had been principal of Essex High School and the Westford School and school superintendent in Colchester and Fairfax. 

Richard Cate, the education commissioner from 2003 to 2008, had been the chief operating officer for the New York Education Department. He had also served as Barre city manager and executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association.

Scott said Thursday that he hires secretaries and commissioners from “all walks of life,” noting that he hired a human services secretary with a restaurant background and a commerce secretary who had been a police chief and technology official.

“I just wanted to make sure that we looked broadly, that we made sure that we’re thinking outside the box,” Scott said of the education secretary search. 

Vermont’s search could take at least two months. Under a timeline discussed at the State Board of Education committee meeting on Wednesday, applications would be due April 30, and the full board could make a decision on finalists as early as May 30. 

The board will recommend at least three names for the job, and the governor will choose one person to appoint. The state Senate must confirm the appointment. 

Contact April McCullum at 802-660-1863 or amccullum@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @April_McCullum. 

 

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