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One need not impugn the devotion or doubt the industry of Brad Smith to note that his decision to resign his post at the head of the Utah State Office of Education presents a positive opportunity for a fresh start.

Specifically, the department and the Utah State Board of Education now have a chance to go forward with a clearly stated devotion to working with, instead of against, the state's front-line teachers and principals.

Smith was a controversial, if not downright divisive, choice as a new state school superintendent when he was hired — on an 8-7 board vote — in October 2014.

He came to that post after three rocky years as superintendent of the Ogden School District. There his aggressive style won praise from many as a needed shake-up of a stodgy system.

But he also drew scorn from others who felt his background as an attorney, with no training in education, led to a needlessly adversarial relationship with the district's teachers, a high turnover among professional staff and bad feelings all around.

When Smith was heard to denounce the state's teachers for their activism, comparing them to spoiled children who just wanted more Christmas presents, those who had opposed his appointment from the start had an I-told-you-so moment.

Most of the upper-level jobs at the Office of Education were filled by new people during Smith's brief tenure. But whatever grand design for Utah education he might have had in mind never seemed to take shape.

First he took a leave of absence to deal with some health issues, the details of which were, as a personal matter, never disclosed. Then, Wednesday, Smith submitted a letter of resignation that referred, rather vaguely, to his feeling that he no longer had the support of the board that had hired him.

Whoever gets the job next will be the fourth state superintendent in five years. The board should take its time, and take care to hire someone who can win the trust of all the many players in Utah's constant disputes over how best to educate a rapidly growing school-age population on shoe-string budgets.

It's a tall order. But the new boss should be someone who can win the respect of teachers and professional staff, which probably means he or she will have the career background in education that Smith lacked. Without it, any reforms in education, no matter how wise or necessary, will be needlessly confrontational.

Knock-down drag-out fights over educational policies and funding seldom produce any permanent victories among the grown-ups. They just hurt the very children everyone claims to be trying to help.

Brad Smith promised, doubtlessly with the best of intentions, to shake things up. He didn't last 18 months. His successor needs to be much more of a consensus builder.