State Board of Education narrows down superintendent search

    A meeting on third-grade reading standards
    People attend a community meeting on third grade reading standards at the Dexter-Elmhurst Center, Dec. 4, 2018 | Ken Coleman

    The State Board of Education has announced the names of the five candidates who will be considered for Michigan’s state superintendent.

    A teachers' rally
    MEA and AFT Michigan education rally, Dec. 12, 2018 | Ken Coleman

    Those five semifinalists, out of 51 total applicants, are Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent Jeanice Swift; Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael Rice; the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA)’s Superintendent Randy Liepa; and two candidates from out of state: Minnesota former Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Georgia Chief Turnaround Officer Eric Thomas.

    In a statement, State Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich said of the candidates, “They have varying degrees of backgrounds. We’re going to have a really diverse group of people with very different backgrounds.”

    The board will select out of those five candidates an undisclosed number of finalists, and make its ultimate decision after final interviews on May 7.

    Brian Whiston
    The late Superintendent Brian Whiston

    The position has been vacant since May 2018 when previous Superintendent Brian Whiston died in office at 56 after a battle with cancer. Chief Deputy Superintendent Sheila Alles has acted as the interim superintendent while the Board has worked with school executive search firm Ray & Associates to find his successor.

    The state superintendent is the top individual official at the Department of Education, serving underneath the statewide elected Board and responsible for the department’s “day-to-day management, supervision, and leadership.”

    Of what will be a year-long search at its conclusion, Ulbrich told the Detroit News, “When you’re doing a national search, and you’re trying to find folks at the top level in their career, it takes a while. We wanted to make sure we had a lot of different perspectives.”

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson covers local government, education, health care and the social safety net, and LGBTQ issues. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington, and before that covered local politics in Chicago. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He enjoys film, the Detroit Pistons and his cat. He once competed in the National Spelling Bee, but was eliminated before any potential ESPN appearances.

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