KBE selects executive firm to lead search for Kentucky’s education commissioner

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Former Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit, right, works with members of the Kentucky Board of Education at a March 18 meeting to compile a list of characteristics they would like to see in a new commissioner.
Former Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit, right, works with members of the Kentucky Board of Education at a March 18 meeting to compile a list of characteristics they would like to see in a new commissioner. Lu Young, left, listens while other state board members attend the meeting virtually.
Photo by Danielle Harris, March 18, 2020

(FRANKFORT, KY) – At its March 18 meeting – held virtually for the first time to comply with Gov. Andy Beshear’s recommendation to practice social distancing due to COVID-19 – the Kentucky Board of Education selected an executive firm to lead the search for Kentucky’s next education commissioner.

Florida-based Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc., which headed up the searches for former commissioners Terry Holliday and Stephen Pruitt, specializes in leading executive searches in the education arena.

“We look forward to bringing you a group of highly qualified candidates – you can be guaranteed of that,” said Susanne Griffin, the firm’s vice president and managing director.

Betty Turner Asher, one of the firm’s partners, said the firm is continuing searches for clients even through the limitations on travel and public gatherings due to COVID-19.

“We have to work a little bit harder. We’re doing much of our work online,” Asher said. “… If we get high-quality candidates who are engaged and want to move forward in the process, I certainly think we can present everything you need.”

During the meeting, the board also voted to accept a lengthy list of characteristics and abilities it hopes to see in the next commissioner of education – feedback generated from a community survey.

Board members were led in a discussion about what to consider when selecting the state’s next education chief by former commissioner Gene Wilhoit, who headed the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) from 2000 to 2006.

The most common characteristics mentioned by board members included a commissioner who has a deep background in education, can work with a diverse group of stakeholders and can help Kentucky close persistent achievement gaps.

“I want to see a commissioner who really began his career as a teacher, not only as a teacher, but as a teacher who was able to work with all difference socioeconomic groups, all different races,” board member Alvis Johnson said. “Really and truly, when I leave this board, I would like to see us close the equity gap between all different races and all the different socioeconomic groups we have in Kentucky.”

Board member Holly Bloodworth, the 2014 Kentucky Teacher of the Year who spent more than 30 years in K-12 education, said she believes the next education commissioner needs to have a deep commitment to educators.

“I believe teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education,” she said. “I want a commissioner that really values teachers, that really gives them the support that they need and honors their importance.

“More than anything, I think the comment I get from teachers when we talk about equity and closing achievement gaps is the phrase, ‘If I knew what to do, we would do that.’ I think we need a commissioner that has a lot of knowledge in that arena that can help teachers develop those skills.”

Ex officio board member Aaron Thompson, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, cautioned board members that the state needs more than just a “super teacher.” It needs a person who can look at policy and work with diverse groups to improve education, he said.

“I think we need someone who has the ability to walk in different shoes,” Thompson said.

Wilhoit said the board’s comments will be turned into desired characteristics that will be brought back before the board.

In other business, the board voted to move the April 8-9 board meetings, previously scheduled for Lexington, to the KDE headquarters in Frankfort on April 9.

Watch the meeting on the KDE Media Portal.

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