CHEYENNE -- Richard Crandall, an Arizona state senator and co-owner of two nutritional service companies, was selected on Wednesday by Gov. Matt Mead to run the Wyoming Department of Education.
Crandall, whose appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate, takes over a department embroiled in controversy, including the removal of its previous administrator -- state schools Superintendent Cindy Hill -- earlier this year by a new state law. Hill is challenging the constitutionality of the change in court.
Despite the situation he is stepping into as director of the education department, Crandall said he considers the position to be a "dream job."
"You've got the state board, a governor's office and a Legislature who just want to do big things for Wyoming students," he said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "And they have a lot of similar ideas and some big thinking and to be able to walk into an organization like that and be a part of it is a thrill of a lifetime."
Crandall had already announced he was retiring from his state Senate seat mid-term to pursue his "dream job" of leading a school system.
On Wednesday he said he would "step away" from his two companies: CN Resources and Crandall Corporate Dieticians in Mesa, Ariz.
Crandall previously chaired Arizona's Senate and House education committees and was the school board president for the state's largest school district in Mesa.
“Richard impressed me with his strong background in education policy and innovation," Mead said in a media release issued late Wednesday afternoon.
"His work with the Digital Learning Commission, a national panel established by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has given him special insight into classroom instruction and uses of technology,” Mead added.
Crandall was one of three finalists chosen by the state Board of Education for the job. The others were Tony Apostle, retired superintendent of public schools in Puyallup, Wash., and Norman Ridder, superintendent of public schools in Springfield, Mo.
During a public meeting of the finalists last month, Crandall said he was focused on technology and would not shy from wholesale changes that incorporate technology and other innovative learning methods in the classroom.
He said he was most passionate about personalized learning that customizes lessons to the needs of individual students.
As director of the education department, Crandall will supervise about 150 employees and an annual budget of about $1 billion.
Crandall said late Wednesday that he will fly to Cheyenne on Friday to meet with the governor and other state officials.
"It's a dream job. It's going to be a treat," Crandall said. "Wyoming has this incredible infrastructure that I think they want to see what they can do."
The state Board of Education and the governor's office talked about finding ways to support teachers with technology, he said.
"They're excited to be education innovators," he said. "The state of Wyoming is poised to do great things."
Crandall will take over from interim director Jim Rose.
Rose is director of the Wyoming Community College Commission. Mead appointed him interim director of the education department in January after the Legislature passed and the governor signed Senate File 104. The law removed Hill from her administrative duties over the department and put them under an appointed director. Hill now has general supervisory responsibility for the state's public schools.
SF104 was the subject of a failed referendum by the Wyoming Constitution Party and an inquiry into how the education department has been run under Hill's watch.
The inquiry team, which was appointed by Mead, reported back last week. The inquiry, submitted without conclusions and largely consisting of interviews with department staff, indicated possible misuse of federal money for unauthorized programs and trips in the state plane under Hill's administration.
Legislative leaders are considering appointing a special House committee to investigate further. The special committee could recommend impeachment of Hill, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Crandall said he has read up on the situation and his not being associated with what has happened so far is an advantage.
"I'm going to let that take its course because I'm not part of that," he said. "Everyone's got a clean slate with me there. I'm just looking forward to being part of a dynamic organization."
Star-Tribune capital bureau reporter Joan Barron contributed to this story.