CHEYENNE — The three candidates Gov. Matt Mead will consider to head the Wyoming Department of Education were chosen by the State Board of Education Saturday.
The board announced Saturday that Tony Apostle, Richard Crandall and Norman Ridder are the three finalists whose names the board will forward to Mead.
The finalists likely will face interviews with the governor this week, said Mary Kay Hill, Mead’s deputy policy director.
The governor was charged by the 2013 Wyoming Legislature with choosing the director by Dec. 1. Mead expects to make the decision sooner, Hill said.
Apostle and Ridder interviewed privately with the board in Cheyenne Saturday, then took questions from interested people in a public session. The board interviewed Crandall and three other semifinalists Friday.
In a prepared statement, Mead offered his appreciation to State Board of Education members for their work.
“The Board of Education provided an excellent pool of candidates,” Mead said in a press release. “The Board has done a yeoman’s job to make sure that the Director of the Department of Education will be an individual who knows education and can move education in Wyoming forward.”
The two candidates who expressed their views in the public session Saturday:
Ridder is the superintendent of the Springfield Public Schools in Springfield, Missouri, and oversees a district of 24,876 students and a $273 million budget.
Ridder on Saturday emphasized a desire to consult with educators around the state when making decisions, and taking a scientific approach using data to meet students’ specific needs. If chosen, he said he’d plan to visit and understand each community, and do a “systems check” for how aligned, flexible and focused each district is.
“Without question, the department does not know anything better than the teacher next to that student,” he said, adding, “The Department of Education is really at the bottom of the totem pole and needs to look for ways to be able to serve and support that child in the classroom.”
For school reform, Ridder said he’d prioritize moving from an “atmosphere of compliance and status quo with testing to continuous improvement.”
Ridder said it’s important to include all stakeholders in educational accountability, including the state and federal government. He’s close with legislators and the governor in his state, he said. But a common mistake in education is that the community is not as involved as it should be, he said.
In Springfield, they ensure compliance with state and national requirements, but pay most attention to what they local community wants, he said.
Ridder said he’s not a fan of state assessments. “I think it’s a compliance, status quo initiative,” he said. He supports the Common Core State Standards, a set of interstate standards Wyoming adopted last year. He said his staff are excited about the Common Core standards and feel much better about their future than current state assessments.
Ridder is a former superintendent of a Colorado Springs school district and holds an education doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He once studied to become a priest, but decided he wanted a family and career in education. He said his faith remains a major part of who he is.
Tony Apostle is a retired superintendent of Puyallup Public Schools in Puyallup, Wash,. He oversaw a district with 21,000 students and a $230 million budget. He said he still has much he wants to do to give back to public school systems.
Apostle’s approach would include creating a strategic plan for public education in Wyoming, he said during Saturday’s public session. Gaps between district and state efforts will fail students, he said.
“It would be my goal to connect with State Board of Education to develop a strategic plan that moves top, bottom, horizontally and vertically, throughout the public school system in the state,” he said.
Districts would have customized plans connected with the overall state plan, Apostle added.
“Where we go will be in concert with your participation, and other stakeholders in the state, to develop a common plan,” he said, “one where we can get collaboration and buy-in and move forward.”
Apostle also supports the Common Core State Standards. During the transition, it’s important to balance data and decision making with attitudes of stakeholders, he said.
He also emphasized need for agreement on an accountability system. “I think that from the ground up,” he said, “we need to build an accountability system that there’s agreement to implement and that we insist that every school district In the state follow that accountability system ….”
Apostle has been also the director of administrative services and elementary education for Puyallup Schools, and holds a doctorate in education from Washington State University.
Richard Crandall holds an Master of Business Administration degree from Notre Dame and is the CEO and CFO of CN Resources and Crandall Corporate Dietitians in Mesa, Ariz. He is a state senator in Arizona and the past chair of the Arizona Senate and House Education Committees. He is also a former member of the Mesa Schools Governing Board.
Crandall said during the public session Friday he had announced earlier this year that he “is retiring his state Senate seat to pursue his ‘dream job’ of leading a school system.
On Friday, he focused on technology, telling public session attendees he wouldn’t shy away 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.
The other three candidates for Education Department director’s job were Stanley Olson, a former Natrona County School District superintendent who is now director of business development for an education technology company; Charles Hokanson, president of a Virginia-based education consulting firm; and Michael Sentance, an education consultant based in Concord, Mass.