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Martell Menlove, the state's current No. 2 man in education, will become Utah's next state schools superintendent.
"I am humbled by the opportunity," an emotional Menlove said upon learning he nabbed the job, "and yet [I] know that I have prepared myself well for a number of years to step into this position, and though there is some anxiety, I'm anxious to work and start moving forward."
The state school board voted unanimously to hire Menlove for the job after publicly interviewing him and two other finalists on Monday, and then deliberating in closed session for about 90 minutes.
Menlove, 60, has worked as state deputy superintendent for the last three years under Superintendent Larry Shumway, who is retiring after this year. Before that, Menlove served as superintendent in the Box Elder and Rich districts. He has also worked as a principal, school counselor and teacher in Utah since 1976.
Board chair Debra Roberts said the board picked Menlove for a number of reasons, including his ability to bring people together.
"I think that every board member was really impressed with the depth of educational background and strength of all the candidates, but in the end the depth of … integrity, character, leadership experience, all those things played in very heavily to the board's decision, and we feel like this really is the person to move us forward to do the good things," Roberts said.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, who co-chairs the legislature's public education budget committee, agreed Monday evening that the board made a good decision. He and several other lawmakers had criticized the board for not spending more time searching for candidates, but he said Monday that "now is not the time to express concerns, now it's time for us to join together in working for better education." He said it seems to him that the board took the job of choosing a new leader "very seriously."
The board chose Menlove after peppering him and the other candidates with a set of eight questions about how they would tackle the job.
Menlove was asked how he sees the role of superintendent in helping to guide and oversee 41 school districts, about 1,000 schools and the nearly 600,000 students they serve.
"More than anything, I see my role as being an advocate for children in this state and advocating for public education in this state and moving forward with everything I can do to assure a quality education for every student in the state of Utah," Menlove said.
He'll have a lot on his plate. As superintendent, Menlove will likely continue to help the state implement new Common Core academic standards, a new accountability system taking the place of No Child Left Behind and new tests to go with the standards. He'll also spend much time working with lawmakers as they craft the state's more-than-$3 billion education budget and create new programs.
In light of that often political role, the board asked him Monday about how he would handle disagreements with the board and the legislature.
Menlove joked that he might just have to look for a different job or sleep on the couch, a reference to his wife who is a lawmaker, Rep. Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland. On a more serious note, he said he would give the board his honest, forthright opinions but ultimately stand behind their decisions.
He added that he's built a number of relationships with lawmakers and other state leaders over the years. And he assured the board that his wife's position likely won't be an issue, noting that it's a relationship they've managed throughout Menlove's time as both a district superintendent and deputy superintendent. He said she has decided not to run for a leadership position in the next session to avoid any appearance of conflict. He already spends much time at the Capitol as deputy superintendent working on behalf of the 15-member board.
Menlove told the board that he believes the biggest challenge facing education in Utah today is a lack of trust. He cited a lack of trust between parents and educators and between various other groups. He said he believes he can work to build that trust.
He said of current education reforms that performance pay for teachers has the most potential as long as it's recognized that "performance is not going to be easily measured or singularly measured by test scores."
He said school grading has the least potential. Utah lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 creating a school grading system that's slated to start next school year. He said a grading system that relies too heavily on a single grade may not tell the whole story of a school or be the best way to help schools improve.
Board member Keith Buswell asked Menlove how long he might stay in the job. Shumway announced his retirement after three years, saying the time was simply right for him to leave. Shumway's predecessor, Patti Harrington, retired after about five years, going on to work with the Utah School Superintendents Association and Utah School Boards Association.
Menlove said he intends to work within the public education system for at least another five years until he's 65, to get the full benefits of the retirement system.
Menlove beat out Gregory A. Hudnall, an associate superintendent for student services in the Provo School District and Michael Sentance of Concord, Mass., president of education reform strategies at private company The Tribal Group. When asked about his feelings on the Common Core, Sentance told the board he stood against the standards in Massachusetts and believes standards should come from the ground up. For months, state education leaders have been defending their decision to adopt the Core in the face of criticism from some conservatives.
Roberts said Menlove will make $200,000 in his new role, before benefits, an increase from the $183,454 a year the board paid Shumway. She said the board felt it was important to offer a salary in line with at least what some district superintendent earn and to be fair.
Roberts said the board felt "perhaps we hadn't been as fair as we ought to have been with Dr. Shumway. He came in as the economy was going down and really was not offered the salary that he ought to be have been offered, and we never felt like we could raise it because of all the political ramifications, and I think the board felt like they had made a mistake there and they weren't willing to make that mistake again."
Menlove, a father of five, earned a Ph.D. in special education from Utah State University (USU), a master's degree in educational psychology and educational administration from the University of Utah and a bachelor's degree in elementary education from USU.