Education commissioner finalists have some Kentucky ties – one teamed with two former state ed chiefs, second worked on new science standards

KSBA eNews Service, Frankfort, Sept. 3, 2015

Both commissioner finalists started in the classroom, spent years in state education agency leadership posts
by Brad Hughes

While neither of the two remaining candidates to become the state’s sixth commissioner of education are from Kentucky, an eNews review of their resumes show both have connections – in one form or another - to the state’s K-12 education system.

The mystery ended Wednesday on the identities of the two final applicants not named publicly by the Kentucky Board of Education last weekend. The Louisville Courier-Journal, WDRB-TV in Louisville, KSBA eNews and other news media outlets collectively confirmed the status of the five finalists interviewed last weekend by state board, leaving Christopher A. Koch and Stephen L. Pruitt as the remaining candidates after the other three acknowledged they had not been selected to move forward.

The elimination of Eminence Independent Schools Superintendent Buddy Berry from consideration ensured that the next commissioner of education would not be a Kentuckian, as some individuals and organizations had pressed the state board to strongly consider. However, Koch and Pruitt are not without linkages to education in Kentucky.

Koch, currently interim president of an organization that accredits teacher preparation programs, lists former Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit among his references. Wilhoit now runs the National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky. He previously was executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), an organization of all of the states’ top K-12 agency leaders. During Wilhoit’s tenure there, Koch served as CCSSO president while he was Illinois’ state superintendent of public education. He also served on the CCSSO board of directors for several years with Terry Holliday, who retired this past Monday as Kentucky’s commissioner of education.

A graduate of Southern Illinois University, Koch also listed among his references current SIU President Randy Dunn, who is a former president of Murray State University.

Pruitt, a senior vice president of a nonprofit organization that works with states on education standards, was a leader in the development of the new science curriculum measures known as Next Generation Science Standards. According to documents on the Kentucky Department of Education website, Pruitt consulted with the KDE staff, Kentucky teachers and others in the crafting of the science standards now being taught in Kentucky classrooms. He began assisting the agency in 2010, leading a group that took a National Academy of Science framework to draft the new standards for Kentucky and at last a dozen other states.

This week, the Kentucky Department of Education and the state board’s search consultant, Greenwood/Asher and Associates, are in the process of hiring an expert in deep background searches to be conducted on Koch and Pruitt. That process is expected to take between two and three weeks.

Here is a deeper look at the resumes of the two finalists for the commissioner’s job:

Christopher Koch

After earning his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts (concentration on English) from SIU in 1984, Koch got his master’s (transitional special education, 1988) and doctoral degrees (educational policy and leadership, 2000) from George Washington University.

He began his education career in 1988 as a special education teacher in a Washington, D.C., psychiatric hospital and day school. He also taught special education in a Maryland vocational ed program, and worked as a youth program director in New Hampshire.

Koch spent more than a decade in the Illinois Department of Education, interrupted by two years when he worked in the U.S. Department of Education’s vocational and adult education unit. In the Illinois agency, he was director of special education, chief education officer and assistant state superintendent before being appointed state superintendent of education. He served in that post from December 2006 through this past May.

Koch served as vice chairman of the board of directors of the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation for two years before becoming that organization’s interim president this past May.

More on Koch’s career and work may be seen here

Stephen Pruitt

Pruitt graduated from North Georgia College in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in science and chemistry. He earned his master’s degree in education in secondary science from the State University of West Georgia in 1996 and his doctorate of philosophy in chemistry education from Auburn University in 2010.

Pruitt started his career in education in 1991 as an AP and college prep chemistry teacher at a high school in Tyrone, Ga. He taught AP chemistry and gifted chemistry while he was department chair at a Fayetteville, Ga. high school until 2003. During those years, he also was a cross country coach and worked as track and field event manager at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

In 2003, Pruitt joined the Georgia Department of Education as a science and program manager. He later served as the agency’s director of academic standards, associate superintendent for assessment and accountability, and chief of staff.

Pruitt went to work in Washington, D.C., in 2010 with Achieve Inc., as vice president for content and research and development where he worked on materials related to the English language and math Common Core State Standards. Since May 2013, he has been a senior vice president for the organization, and has been responsible for working with a number of state departments of education – including Kentucky – on the implementation of the new science standards.

As part of his work for Achieve Inc., Pruitt led grant-writing work that gained the organization $16 million, including $4 million to support the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top push.

More on Pruitt’s career and work may be seen here

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