Wayne G. Sanstead, the gregarious former government teacher and debate coach who has served as North Dakota’s state schools superintendent for nearly three decades, announced this month that he will not seek re-election.
Mr. Sanstead, 76, is the longest-serving state schools chief in the country, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.
He said he’s retiring from public service to spend more time with his wife and grandchildren and to relax. The self-described “prolific vote-getter,” who has won seven straight elections as superintendent, said he was confident he would have won an eighth term this year, but decided against it.
In a phone interview, Mr. Sanstead offered a reporter “greetings from beautiful and bountiful North Dakota, where the sun is shining, even if I’m not running.”
“I had put together two news releases: one that read yes, I’m running; one that read ‘no,’ ” he said. “I found the real meaning in public life. The decision didn’t come lightly. But I think I’ve put in my time.”
Mr. Sanstead is a Democrat, though his office is officially nonpartisan. His party affiliation makes him a rarity in North Dakota, where the governor is a Republican and the state legislature is dominated by the GOP.
The superintendent said he is most proud of his efforts to increase and equalize state funding across North Dakota’s schools, and the state’s progress in increasing student access to education through technology and other means.
Mr. Sanstead has served in public office for a total of 46 years. He was elected as a state representative in 1964, while working as a teacher in his hometown of Minot. He later served in the state Senate, and in 1972, he was elected lieutenant governor.
He continued to teach full time in the classroom until 1979, when he became the state’s first full-time lieutenant governor, according to his biography. He was first elected as the state’s schools chief in 1984.
All told, Mr. Sanstead has been elected to office 16 times and lost only once—in 1980, when he was lieutenant governor, amid the Republican wave that brought Ronald Reagan to the White House.
“You can’t stand in front of a landslide,” he said. “I found that out firsthand.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 29, 2012 edition of Education Week as After 28 Years, N.D. Superintendent to Retire