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Board chair 'confident' Pruitt is right person for job; indicates some pushback on selection


By Brad Hughes
Special to KyForward

Pending an Oct. 6 contract signing in Frankfort, former Georgia teacher and state education agency executive Dr. Stephen Pruitt will become Kentucky’s sixth commissioner of education. His tentative first day leading the state Department of Education is Oct. 16.

Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Kentucky Board of Education enthusiastically offered the position to Pruitt, who will resign his post as senior vice president of Achieve Inc., a Washington, D.C., nonprofit education organization, where he has worked with states, including Kentucky, to craft core academic standards.

The action came after a 45-minute, closed-door meeting, during which the state board discussed a 64-page deep background check performed on Pruitt by an executive search contractor. It was his second background review, the first coming when he was named one of five semifinalists in the KBE’s four-month search process.

In a statement written by Pruitt and read aloud by KBE Chairman Roger Marcum, Pruitt was equally enthusiastic about the decision.

“I’m honored and excited that the board has extended an offer for employment. I’m looking forward to starting work by mid-October,” said Pruitt, who spent 12 years teaching chemistry at two Georgia high schools and rose to chief of staff of the Georgia Department of Education during seven years with that agency.

“My focus has always been on doing what is best for students and that will not change as commissioner,” he said. “I anticipate collaborating immediately with state leaders to empower educators and parents and to prepare every Kentucky student with an education that prepares them for success in the 21st century.”

Several KBE members extolled Pruitt’s experience and his skills as a communicator and coalition builder.

“His interactions with the board and his concern for how the board would work in the future was very impressive,” said Vice Chairman Jonathan Parrent. “His extensive background with development of science standards and the best way for board to move forward with the assessment of those standards all stood out to me.”

KBE member David Karem lauded Pruitt’s academic experience. “I think it sends an incredibly powerful message to all of the kids in this state of the value of this kind of very strong academic background, and his national status that he brings to the table right from the start.”

Board member Mary Gwen Wheeler said Pruitt had a “proven record of building partnerships around very difficult issues,” while Debbie Cook said Pruitt’s interviews showed “he had done his own due diligence in knowing about Kentucky.”

According to KBE member Nawanna Privett, Pruitt expressed his intent not to be Frankfort-bound. “He talked about traveling the state and how important it was to meet educators as early as possible. It’s exciting to see someone who values collaboration.”

KBE member Leo Calderon cited Pruitt’s classroom experience, while William Twyam called Pruitt “very approachable and adamant about two-way communications.” Grayson Boyd said he had told several eastern Kentucky superintendents that Pruitt is “someone who will sit down with them and be comfortable with whoever he is talking with.”

Some pushback

Marcum said he is “confident Dr. Pruitt is the right person for the job,” but added a comment indicating there was some pushback on the selection. During the search process, Marcum and other state board members publicly acknowledged receiving encouragement for a Kentuckian to be named commissioner.

“Anyone who is tempted to second-guess our decision, I would just say that we were looking at all of the information of all of the applicants, and you may be seeing some of the information about some of the applicants, but not all of it,” Marcum said. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily fair to second-guess people who have as volunteers given their time to make the best decision for Kentucky kids. I’m confident that the many partners we have will embrace him so that we can be successful for Kentucky’s kids. I know that Kentuckians will do what’s right for Kentucky kids.”

Pruitt is expected to attend the Oct. 6 KBE meeting in Frankfort when his employment contract will be on the agenda for final action.

Brad Hughes is director of member support for the Kentucky School Boards Association and writes for its eNews service.

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