A second top Utah education official will leave his post this month, state leaders announced Friday.
State Superintendent Martell Menlove announced in March he would retire this year, but he said at the time he would wait until his replacement was found. But state school board chair David Crandall said on Friday that next week will likely be Menlove’s last in the office, though he’ll help with the transition as needed.
State school board leaders said on Friday they’ve chosen an interim superintendent — Joel Coleman, a former board member and current superintendent of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.
Unusual for someone in the state superintendent spot, he does not have public school teaching experience. Rather, he’s worked as a seminary teacher and administrator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Coleman is also a founder of Monticello Academy charter school.
"He does have pretty significant teaching experience and has been working as an educator his whole career, it just hasn’t been in the public sector," Crandall said.
Menlove’s departure comes just a week after State Deputy Superintendent Brenda Hales left her position as well. Hales had been planning to retire for months but decided late last week to end her active employment, saying she would use vacation and other leave until her retirement becomes official at the end of the year.
Hales told the Tribune no single event in particular inspired her to leave last week. But Crandall acknowledged to the Tribune on Friday that Menlove was asked to leave a closed meeting about a week ago, during a board committee discussion about an audit looking into general practices in the State Office of Education.
Crandall said Hales’ departure seemed to be related to that incident.
Crandall said the state board has recently started to ask staffers to leave during discussions about some audits because it’s a best practice.
"The conversation changes when you have a discussion in the absence of staff," Crandall said. "It’s not necessarily a significant change, and I don’t believe it was in this case, but it was a new practice, and I don’t think it was communicated well by board leadership or the audit committee chair that that was what was going to happen."
Board vice chair Dave Thomas, who also leads the board’s finance and audit committee, said the group wasn’t discussing one particular audit when Menlove was asked to leave. Members were talking to the internal auditor about general issues. Thomas said the discussion was not related to Menlove specifically.
The board released reports on five audits during that meeting though none seems to focus directly on Menlove. The committee discussed other audits as well, but those are in process and not yet public, Thomas said.
It was not immediately clear Friday why Menlove had chosen next week as his last in the office. Attempts to reach Menlove on Friday were unsuccessful.
Some have also accused the state school board of micromanaging, leading top officials to exit. Thomas said Friday the board has spent months trying to decide how much to be involved to be in day-to-day operations.
"In the past, we’ve typically just been a governing board making high-level policy decisions and the question that is being discussed is: Do we want to be more of an operational board?" Thomas said.
Crandall said "it’s difficult" losing the office’s two top people at once, but he said he’s confident those appointed to fill their places in the interim will help everyone "move forward and really have strong leadership in the office until we get a new superintendent."
Thomas said Friday that Coleman has been a calming influence at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. Over the years, school leaders have faced criticism from parents who felt listening-and-spoken language instruction for deaf children was favored over traditional instruction in American Sign Language.
"Joel has kind of proven his mettle there … He took over a very difficult situation and was able to, within a year, really turn that place around both fiscally and otherwise," Thomas said.
Sydnee Dickson, the office’s director of teaching and learning, will serve as interim deputy superintendent.
It’s anticipated that the board will choose a new, permanent superintendent by early October. The board has launched a nationwide search and contracted with a Salt Lake City-based firm to help with the effort.
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