The quest to replace former State Superintendent Tommy Bice took a significant step today (July 12) when the members of the State School Board narrowed an initial list of 12 applicants to six who will be asked to interview on August 4.  (One of the initial applicants withdrew his name prior to today’s session.)

Each of the eight elected members could select up to five to be interviewed.  (Governor Bentley chairs this board by virtue of his office, however, he was out of state and could not attend.  He did send a list with his three top choices, but his “vote” was not included in the final tally since proxy votes could not be counted.)

The top vote getter was Craig Pouncey, current Jefferson County superintendent.  He got seven votes.  Only Mary Scott Hunter did not vote for him.

Two applicants tied for second with five votes each.  They are Williamson Evers with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California and Janet Womack, superintendent of the Florence city school system.

Evers received support from Stephanie Bell, Betty Peters, Matt Brown, Cynthia McCarty and Mary Scott Hunter.  Womack’s support came from Jeff Newman, Matt Brown, Yvette Richardson, Cynthia McCarty and Mary Scott Hunter.

Dee Fowler, longtime Madison City superintendent, received four votes.  They came from Jeff Newman, Yvette Richardson, Cynthia McCarty and Mary Scott Hunter.

Jeana Ross, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education and a member of the governor’s cabinet, got three votes.  They came from Matt Brown, Cynthia McCarty and Mary Scott Hunter.

Also receiving three votes was Michael Sentance, an education consultant in Massachusetts and one time state secretary of education.  He was supported by Stephanie Bell, Betty Peters and Mary Scott Hunter.

Mark Kirkemier, Interim Deputy State Superintendent, received votes from Matt Brown and Yvette Richardson.  Four applicants did not receive any votes.

I know each of the remaining four Alabama candidates and consider them all good friends and quality people.  Each is a true professional and all have unique qualifications.

For me, the biggest takeaway from this meeting is that there is obviously no consensus on the skill set and track record the next superintendent should have.

This is readily apparent when you look at the information Craig Pouncey and Williamson Evers submitted in their applications.  Pouncey has been a local superintendent for both a rural county (Crenshaw) and a metro county (Jefferson).  Plus he served as chief of staff for former superintendent Tommy Bice.  He is intimately familiar with the state and how education is financed.

On the other hand, while Evers (who got five votes to seven for Pouncey) is obviously a very talented person, as best I can determine his experience has been primarily in civil service and academia.  I find no record that he has ever been employed in any fashion by a public school system.

The Hoover Institution is a “think tank” and a highly-respected one.  Consequently, a Google search readily leads you to articles he has written.  But for the life of me, I don’t see how articles such as “New school history framework is unhistorical” or “How Woodrow Wilson denied African-Americans an academic education”  relates to the challenges facing Monroe Intermediate school at Packer’s Bend.

I do not mean to denigrate my friends in higher education, far from it.

But is this the time or the place?

If your house is on fire, do you rush out to see if someone can build a fire station just down the street–or do you look for a fireman with a lot of water?

The challenge to our state school board in the next three weeks is deciding if we need a fire station or a fireman.