Tuesday, August 29, 2000

School board pares commissioner's list to 3

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Board of Education, which might select a new commissioner for the state's schools by nightfall, can choose from among three educators, each of whom has a specific strength.

        “It's almost an embarrassment of riches,” Helen Mountjoy, the board's chairwoman, said Monday.

        The board is to convene at 8 a.m. today to begin private interviews with the finalists — Gene Wilhoit, a deputy commissioner of the Depart ment of Education; Stu Silberman, superintendent of Daviess County schools; and Sammie Campbell Parrish, dean of the school of education at North Carolina Central University.

        Barring an unexpected deadlock among board members, one would be picked to succeed Wilmer R. Cody, who resigned Dec. 31.

        Whether the selection would be made Tuesday remained to be seen. “If we declare a consensus and are able to make the decision, we will,” Ms. Mountjoy said in a telephone interview from Utica in Daviess County.

        There is no deadline for a decision, nor will she impose one, Ms. Mountjoy said.

        “It's too important for us to rush it if everybody's not ready to make a decision,” she said.

        The director of a leading advocacy group, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, said he expected the decision to be difficult but fairly speedy.

        “They all bring strengths. They all bring strong qualifications,” Bob Sexton said. “I'd think it would be a very hard decision.”

        Mr. Wilhoit and Ms. Parrish have had state-level experience.

        Mr. Wilhoit headed the Arkansas Department of Education from 1993 to 1997, when Mr. Cody hired him as his top deputy. If familiarity with Kentucky's department makes for an inside track, Mr. Wilhoit has it.

        Ms. Parrish was an assistant superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction in North Carolina until 1992, when she left for two stormy years at the helm of the problem-plagued Cleveland school system.

        Mr. Silberman's experience has been at the local school district level, first in Chattanooga, Tenn. During his tenure in Daviess County, the school system has attracted national attention because of a curriculum designed to enhance brain development.

        Tony Sholar, a spokesman for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said business has overriding interest in selection of a new commissioner: Can the person manage the Department of Education? How will the agency implement statutes enacted by the General Assembly?

        Kentucky switched from an elected superintendent to an appointed commissioner as part of the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act. As commissioner No. 3, Mr. Cody's successor will be no more or less important than his or her predecessors or future successors, Mr. Sholar said.

        “This whole pursuit of educational excellence — the public has to remember, this is a journey, not a destination,” he said.


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