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Education

Alabama State Chief Quits Just Days Before ESSA Plan Due

By Daarel Burnette II — September 13, 2017 2 min read

Alabama’s state Superintendent Michael Sentance, who took over the state education department last year amid a graduation rate scandal, a raging battle over school ratings, school choice and state control of academically failing schools, has resigned.

The longtime education consultant from Massachusetts submitted his resignation in a letter Wednesday to Republican Gov. Kay Ivey just a day before a board meeting in which members were expected to vote on his fate after a bruising evaluation, according to Al.com.

“Not much to say,” he said in a clipped interview, according to the paper.

His resignation comes just days before the state’s accountability plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which Sentance wrote, is due to the federal government.

He was hired a year ago last month.

The average tenure among state chiefs is barely two years. Many policy analysts have worried whether state chiefs have the longevity to write ESSA plans specific to states’ needs, defend those plans with the U.S. Department of Education, and then successfully implement them.

Sentance was hired by the board in August of last year to replace longtime Superintendent Tommy Bice who retired after a years-long battle over the expansion of charter schools and a dispute between the state and local officials over how to rank the state’s districts and schools.

It was later revealed that the department under Bice’s watch had inflated its celebrated graduation rates.

Just months after Sentance’s hiring, Gov. Robert Bentley, who chairs the state’s board of education, said at a statewide gathering that the state’s schools “suck.” (Bentley resigned in November amid a corruption scandal and was replaced by his Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey).

Sentance was paid $198,000, $52,000 less than his predecessor, according to an Education Week analysis of state superintendent salaries.

Sentance quickly ran into political turmoil as he traversed the mostly rural, economically deprived, ethnically diverse and politically conservative state to gather thoughts on what the components of the state’s ESSA plan should be. Meanwhile, the state’s department began to take over Montgomery Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the state, a process Sentance said would bring stability, autonomy and school choice, but which parents and school officials called unfair.

He sided with district superintendents in a debate over whether the state should keep or get rid of its A-F letter grades of schools’ performance.

But in an evaluation sprung on him by the state board last month, district superintendents and board members took issue with his leadership style and policymaking.

“I do not take this situation lightly, and as President of the State Board of Education, I will ask the Board to accept his resignation,” Ivey said in a statement. “Over the past two years, Alabama has experienced far too many changes in state government. As with previous changes in leadership positions, we will use the pending resignation of the state superintendent as an opportunity to move forward and begin a new chapter in public education.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.

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