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Alabama looks to 'steady ship' after superintendent resigns

Posted September 14

— Alabama Board of Education members on Thursday appointed former Superintendent Ed Richardson as the interim superintendent of state schools as they begin the search for a new public school chief.

The school board on Thursday made quick work of ushering out one superintendent and naming a temporary replacement. The board voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Superintendent Michael Sentance, and approved a separation agreement that will pay him his salary for the remainder of the year, about $57,000. Board members then voted 8-1 vote to name Richardson, who had held the superintendent's post for nearly nine years, to take the job on an interim basis.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who serves as board president, said that she had approached Richardson this week about taking the job on an interim basis.

"I'm sure that each of you here on the board probably have someone in mind for a long-term permanent superintendent, but for today we need a strong interim superintendent to steady the ship of education in our great state," Ivey told board members.

Sentance submitted a resignation Wednesday, conditioned on the board's approval of the separation agreement. His resignation came after a tumultuous year on the job and occurred ahead of Thursday's meeting, where some members were expected to push to fire him.

Sentance, an education consultant and former Massachusetts secretary of education, was an outsider without ties to Alabama when a divided state school board picked him last year to become the next superintendent. Board members who voted for him praised his innovation, saying he would bring fresh ideas. Others raised concerns about his lack of classroom and school experience.

Board members criticized his communication skills and this summer gave Sentence low scores on a performance evaluation, which was largely seen as a prelude to a push to dismiss him.

"There are many good things happening in public education in this state," Sentance said in a statement. "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."

The details of both Sentance's departure and Richardson's appointment had been negotiated ahead of Thursday's meeting. The state also agreed to pay Sentance nearly $20,000 to cover insurance costs. Sentence agreed not to sue the state for wrongful termination.

Richardson has been a fixture in Alabama education for decades. He was state superintendent from 1995 to 2004, and was superintendent of the Auburn school system for 13 years. In 2004, he was named as interim president of Auburn University during a tumultuous time when the university had been put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and there was an NCAA inquiry into the school's basketball program.

As it was at Auburn University, his new task is to handle some of the most pressing issues, Richardson told The Associated Press. Those goals include dealing with budget difficulties, handling an intervention of Montgomery public schools, figuring out a replacement to measure student assessment and submitting a state plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act prior to a looming deadline.

"I'm just trying to solve some of the problems to make it easier for the next superintendent to be a success," Richardson said.

Richardson said it is preferable that the next superintendent have a background in education administration at the local level and have knowledge of the specifics of Alabama's education landscape.

"If education improves, it is not going to be improved in the (state headquarters) building, it's going to be in the schools and classrooms out here. You've got to have credibility, one, with the superintendents. The way you have credibility is have you ever done this work before," Richardson said.

"Alabama — and I'm not saying it's a positive or negative — is just different," he said. "If you went to Arkansas it would be different, in terms of funding and how things are handled."

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