By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
State Superintendent Michael Sentance defended himself on Thursday from a Board of Education evaluation that left him with an average rating of 1.3 out of 3 with 1 being the lowest he could have scored.
Sentance said on Thursday during his response that he has had some shortcomings as the State Superintendent but said he would like to continue the “great task at hand.” He received the poor review last month after his annual evaluation was done after only 11 months since his hiring.
Alabama State Department of Education rules dictate that a review of the State Superintendent must be conducted each year before December 31st. Board Member Stephanie Bell called for an evaluation with only a weeks’ notice to the other board members.
His review was also met with a contentious State Board of Education meeting in July which saw gavel hitting and Bell tell fellow Board Member Mary Scott Hunter that she was “out of order.”
At the same meeting, the Board’s attorney, Lewis Gillis, sent the Board into an Executive Session right before they discussed Sentance’s job performance. This meant that nothing discussed during that session would be public record.
Under State law, Executive Sessions cannot be a platform to discuss job performance. Gillis said the session was to discuss someone’s character and not Sentance’s job performance. He later clarified that Sentance’s character was not being brought into question.
Hunter protested the move by saying: “We should conduct the people’s business in front of the people.” Hunter and fellow Board Member Betty Peters both protested the way in which Sentance’s review was handled and Hunter refused to fill out the evaluation form she was given.
Sentance’s review came prematurely for some and APR reported in July that the Board of Education was gearing up to fire him after less than a year on the job.
APR reported this was due to his handling of the Montgomery Public Schools takeover which saw the state intervene in more than two dozen failing schools in February of this year. Sentance said the takeover was the “most comprehensive” in the state’s history and said that it was already showing progression towards a positive result.
While the Board of Education can fire Sentance at any time, no action was taken during Thursday’s board meeting to fire him. His contract is through December 2018 at which time a new candidate could be considered.
While Sentance may have lost favor with some on the Board of Education, he won the support of some groups outside of the Board for his criticisms of the newly-implemented standards system Common Core. In fact, Sentance spent over an hour at the work session on Thursday criticizing the system and proposing a new set of standards to replace Common Core.
A group that has supported Sentance’s endeavors is the conservative group Alabama Policy Institute which has called him a “stellar Superintendent.”
Caleb Crosby, president and CEO of the Alabama Policy Institute, sent out an email the day before Thursday’s board meeting asking the public to give Sentance an opportunity to show he can fix public education.
“If we’re willing to give a football coach multiple seasons to demonstrate success, we should offer at least that to a man who has inherited a failing education system,” Crosby said. “We also need a transparent and useful evaluation. It might not be as simple as wins and losses, but the targets for success need to be clearly defined. The bigger problem may be that the board doesn’t know what success looks like. Several members have served for over a decade, and we haven’t exactly wowed anyone with our public education progress.”
Governor Kay Ivey issued a statement after the board meeting calling on the Board to focus on Alabama’s children and quality of education rather than differences of opinions.
“Mr. Sentance has been on the job for less than a year, and in that time, has advocated many necessary reforms,” Ivey said. “Though he is certainly not without fault, I trust the Board will give him time to implement those reforms.”
As Governor, Ivey serves as the president of the Board of Education and can vote on any issue the Board is facing. Since becoming governor in April, she has yet to attend one Board meeting.
Ivey’s predecessor, former Governor Robert Bentley, was instrumental in the hiring of Sentance. Bentley was the deciding vote last year when Sentance won the vote 5-4.