MONTGOMERY, Ala. — State school board members are looking to an outsider to lead Alabama public schools, naming the former Massachusetts education secretary as the next school superintendent over candidates who have worked extensively in state classrooms.

It took several rounds of voting Thursday morning before members narrowly selected education consultant Michael Sentance for the job. Sentance spent his career as an education adviser and reformer. He has worked as an education consultant, the New England regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education secretary and as the senior education adviser to the governor of Massachusetts. Board members who voted for him praised his innovation, saying he would bring fresh ideas and needed changes to the public school system in Alabama.

“Mr. Sentance, I think, brings something unique to the state. Massachusetts is the number one state in the country in education. Test scores show that. We are not number one, obviously, but we would like to be,” Gov. Robert Bentley said after the vote. “Changes are going to be made, and changes have to be made,” Bentley said.

His lack of classroom and school administration experience was named as a concern by board members who supported other candidates.

“I felt we needed someone who had experience as a superintendent. Mr. Sentance does not have that experience. That was my biggest concern, along with the fact that I thought that someone from the state of Alabama would know our needs better. I feel like Mr. Sentance will get here and learn, but it’s a lot easier if you know what the needs are,” board member Yvette Richardson, a former principal and school superintendent, said.

Sentance has an American studies degree from Georgetown University, a law degree from Duquesne University of Law, and a master’s degree in law from the Boston University School of Law. He does not have a start date yet. The board must vote on a salary and benefits package.

“It would be my goal to make Alabama the model in the next decade for what is possible in American education,” Sentance wrote in his application to the board.

Sentance in a statement issued Thursday on social media said he was grateful for the confidence and looking forward to working with new colleagues in Alabama. Sentance has been a finalist for superintendent in several states in recent years, according to news reports, including Ohio, Kentucky, Nevada and Nebraska.

Sentance won the position over Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey, a former state deputy superintendent and chief of staff within the department. Sentance won with five votes. Pouncey was the next highest vote-getter with four.

Pouncey had been the leading candidate when board members named their six finalists for the job. However, he had also been the subject of an anonymous complaint sent to board members ahead of the vote accusing him of getting department staff to help him with his dissertation in 2009.

Pouncey said Thursday that the accusation was untrue. “Anybody who has known me, has known my career …… I’m well-attuned to what the ethics laws are and it has been my job in the past to always enforce them and make sure everybody stays in compliance with them,” Pouncey said. Asked if the accusations were an attempt to hurt his chances of winning the position, Pouncey replied, “I’ll let the public decide that.”

Pouncey said he was eager to hear Sentance’s ideas for the state. He said he hoped the new superintendent would find, “the dirt roads of Alabama. The kids who don’t have anybody to speak for them, because it’s a whole different world than Massachusetts.”

The board began searching for a new superintendent after Tommy Bice retired in March.

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