The Kentucky Board of Education is vetting Christopher Koch and Stephen Pruitt as the two finalists who are still up for consideration to potentially become Kentucky's next education commissioner.
Three of the five candidates who were granted second-round interviews in the hunt for Kentucky's next education commissioner have said they did not make the finalist list, leaving only Pruitt and Koch in the running for the state's top education gig.Last week, the Kentucky Board of Education posted the names of five candidates it had chosen for second interviews; after conducting those interviews, the board announced Saturday it had whittled the group of five down to two finalists — although it didn't name the two.On Wednesday, three candidates — Kathleen Airhart, Buddy Berry and Lloyd Martin — told the Courier-Journal that they were not finalists for the job.That leaves Koch, the former Illinois State Superintendent of Education and current interim president of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, and Pruitt, senior vice president with nonpartisan education reform organization Achieve Inc., as the two finalists.Neither man returned calls or emails requesting comment Wednesday.The board has commissioned in-depth background checks on the two finalists, which are likely to take a few weeks and cost about $5,000 per candidate, the Kentucky Department of Education has said.Once those checks are complete, the board will hold a special meeting to take the next step in the process.Board chairman Roger Marcum told the Courier-Journal last week that the board didn't plan to publicly name the two finalists, although it was up to candidates if they wanted to self-identify.
Airhart, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Tennessee Department of Education, said she "greatly appreciated" the board's consideration and time, saying she had not sought out the Kentucky education commissioner position but that she thought the board had a "very thorough interview process and I was honored to be a small part of it."Berry, superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Ky., and the only candidate from the Bluegrass State to get a second interview, released a statement confirming he is not one of the two remaining in the commissioner search, saying that being selected to go so far in the process "is one of the most humbling honors of my life.""I feel Kentucky stands poised for unprecedented educational achievements," Berry said in the statement. "While I'm disappointed not to be chosen, Kentucky is, and always will be, my home and I can't thank the Kentucky Board of Education enough for allowing me to be a part of the conversation for its future."Martin, who is founder and chief executive officer of the consultancy firm Universal School Solutions LLC, said by phone that he was not one of the two finalists; he declined to comment any further on the process.Interim education commissioner Kevin Brown is heading the Kentucky Department of Education until a new leader is chosen. Former commissioner Terry Holliday, who held the position for about six years, retired at the end of August.Pruitt has worked at Achieve Inc. since 2010. He has been senior vice president since 2013. He previously worked in the Georgia Department of Education, serving in a number of roles, including chief of staff and associate state superintendent. He holds a doctorate in chemistry education from Auburn University.Koch spent more than eight years as the State Superintendent of Education in Illinois, becoming one of the longest-serving state school chiefs in the country. Before that tenure, he worked in other roles for the Illinois education agency, and for a few years in the 1990s worked as an education program specialist with the U.S. Department of Education, according to his resume. He has a doctorate of education from George Washington University.