Must a State Commissioner be an Insider?

Must a state commissioner of education be an education insider? The fact that Bob Corkins was never a superintendent, principal, or teacher was and usually continues to be mentioned in any discussion of him. So it might be fair to suggest that insider status is all but determined. It certainly seems to be the position of some of Corkins’ strongest critics, including several members of the SBOE. District superintendents favor this approach as well.

Then again, Bill Wagnon, who will likely be the leader of the State Board of Education, opens the door to some alternatives. “He also said he wouldn’t be opposed to candidates who have some experience outside public schools — so long as their backgrounds in education are substantial.”

How substantial is enough? We don’t know. Now, we’re not necessarily calling for a commissioner who is outside the education industry. We would, however, like to see that the possibility is not foreclosed.  Big city districts from LA to New York, with Chicago and other places in between, have hired non-education professionals from the fields of military service, lawyering, investment bankers, and financial wizards.

Now, we would say that experience leading large organizations is vital; a record of having lead an organization through painful changes would be an even better sign of leadership strength. As the Capital-Journal notes, “Corkins was criticized partly because he had never run a sizable organization.”

Sources: Parties know desired traits for education commissioner, Topeka Capital Journal, November 28;
Wanted: Schools Chiefs with Zero Experience, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2006; Search is on for Education Leader; Kansas City Star; November 28; Officials: Ed Commish needs experience; Hutchinson News, November 29.

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