New top finalist for state superintendent of instruction

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A Michigan candidate for state superintendent of public instruction has moved back into the finalist round after a national contender dropped out this week.

Wayne RESA Superintendent Randy Liepa

On Friday, state education officials said former Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius was hired as Boston Public School's superintendent Wednesday and dropped out of Michigan's race that evening.

"She called our School Board's search firm, Ray & Associates, that night to say she was accepting the offer," said Bill DiSessa, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education.

That means that Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency Superintendent Randy Liepa moves back into consideration as one of three finalists who will be interviewed at a special state board meeting on Tuesday in Lansing.

On April 24, the State Board of Education selected three candidates for the next round of interviews for the post of state superintendent of public instruction.

The other two finalists are Kalamazoo Superintendent Michael Rice and Ann Arbor Superintendent Jeanice Swift.

At the time, the board had eliminated Liepa and Georgia chief education turnaround officer Eric Thomas.

Liepa has held several public education jobs in Metro Detroit and worked as superintendent of Livonia Public Schools before taking over Wayne RESA in 2015.

Swift worked for three decades as a teacher, coach, principal and school administrator before taking over Ann Arbor Public Schools in 2013.

Rice has served as Kalamazoo Public Schools superintendent since 2007 and previously worked as a teacher in Washington, D.C., and as a local superintendent in New Jersey. 

The board hired the executive search firm to conduct an international search to replace former state Superintendent Brian Whiston, who died in office after a battle with cancer.

The state received 51 applicants for the job. Chief Deputy Sheila Alles has served as interim state superintendent since Whiston’s death in May, but the eight-member Board of Education has the constitutional responsibility to appoint a permanent replacement.

The state superintendent is the day-to-day operational leader of the Michigan Department of Education and works with the board to develop and lead a strategic plan for student improvement.

In a job description post, the board said it was looking for a leader with “a vision and strategy” to improve learning outcomes for all children and a “demonstrated ability to lead … in a politically charged, multi-stakeholder environment.”