Today, members of the Kansas State Board of Education will take the first steps in arguably the most important job they do for the residents of Kansas: hiring a new commissioner of education for the state.
During last week’s board meeting, Alexa Posny officially submitted her resignation as education commissioner. After serving about 2 1/2 years in that job, she has been confirmed as an assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services within the U.S. Department of Education. She previously had served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs for the federal department.
It is a good fit for Posny and confirms the skills and professionalism she brought to the Kansas education commissioner’s office after the turbulent, politically charged tenure of her predecessor. The political situation on the state school board has, at least temporarily, moderated and hopefully will contribute to making the state’s top education job more attractive for potential applicants.
Board members agreed last week to hire the National Association of State Boards of Education to assist them in a search for Posny’s replacement. They are scheduled to meet in special session today with officials from that group to begin the search process.
As they undertake this important job, board members should be looking for someone with strong education experience and credentials who understands public education and can act as a strong advocate for the interests of Kansas students. The ability to carry that message effectively to the governor and state legislators also would be a significant plus. State decision makers need to understand and embrace the importance of public schools in preparing students for jobs and post-secondary education and thereby feeding the state economy.
Public schools are facing many challenges. The state’s dropout rates and the need to serve students who speak limited English are just a couple of issues that have drawn attention in recent weeks. Additional funding usually is cited as the way to address such problems, but the state’s economic situation may force school officials to seek lower-cost ways to meet education goals.
The elected members of the state school board have an important responsibility to set education policy in the state, but the day-to-day role of implementing policy and overseeing the quality of the state’s public schools falls primarily to the education commissioner and department staff.
That’s why finding the best possible person to energize the department and set an ambitious direction for state schools is such an important job. For the good of the state, Kansans should hope board members are able to hire a true superstar to fill that role.