Courtesy photo
Martell Menlove was named superintendent of public instruction by the State School Board Monday October 8.

SALT LAKE CITY — After expressing his desire to rebuild trust between parents, educators and lawmakers, Martell Menlove was named superintendent of public instruction by the State School Board.

"I am humbled by the opportunity," Martell told members of the board. "Though there's some anxiety, I'm anxious to get to work and start moving forward."

Menlove, who's been serving as deputy state superintendent, beat out two other finalists who were interviewed by the board during a public meeting Monday. He officially will take over the post Jan. 1, succeeding Superintendent Larry Shumway, who announced his retirement in September.

During his interview, Menlove said his role would be to act as a spokesman for the State Board of Education, ensuring that its vision and goals are carried forward. More importantly, he said, his job will be to represent Utah's children.

"I see my role as being an advocate for children in this state," he said, "an advocate for public education in this state and moving forward with everything I do to ensure a quality education for every student in the state of Utah."

Also interviewed Monday were finalists Gregory Hudnall, associate superintendent for student services in the Provo School District; and Michael Sentance, a reform strategist for the Tribal Group and a former undersecretary of education in the Massachusetts state government.

Each finalist was asked a series of eight predetermined questions, which focused on their view of the role of state superintendent, their experience managing large budgets and their opinions on controversial education topics, such as the Common Core State Standards Initiative and voucher programs.

For the most part, the candidates offered similar answers, but each answered differently when asked what they believe is the greatest obstacle facing public education in Utah.

Menlove said class size or funding will always be a discussion, but the greatest obstacle in Utah is a lack of trust toward educators that didn't exist — or existed to a lesser extent — in the past.

Menlove, an educator for the past 30 years, said students used to worry when school officials called their parents. Today, the educator is worried, he said.

Menlove said he's looking forward to bringing education stakeholders, community members and lawmakers together to work on their shared goal of educating Utah's children. He also said he's been able to create working relationships with state legislators over the years, which puts him in a position to build that trust.

Prior to his appointment as deputy state superintendent, Menlove served as superintendent of the Box Elder School District for 12 years and held several teaching positions in the state.

He received his doctorate and a bachelor's degree from Utah State University and also holds degrees from the University of Utah and Snow College.

During his interview, Menlove was also asked how long he would potentially serve as state superintendent if selected. Menlove, 60, explained that he had no intention of retiring from education before reaching 65.

"I'm going to be working someplace for the next five years at least," he said. "I think I'm better prepared today than I've ever been to assume the duties of state superintendent."

Menlove is married to state Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland. During his interview, he referred to his wife's position in the state several times and said it would not pose a conflict of interest with his duties as state superintendent.

Rep. Menlove removed herself from the Education Appropriations Committee after her husband was appointed deputy superintendent and will not be seeking a leadership position in her party, he said, partly out of concern for his position.

During his interview, Hudnell said it is an exciting time to be in public education in Utah because he believes the state is on the verge of becoming "the best of the best." But, he said, the greatest obstacle facing the state is a resistance to change.

"We have too many educators who are comfortable where they are," Hudnell said. "We have too many educators who don't want to change."

Sentance also spoke of a need for change, but said the problem lies more in top-down leadership than at the educator level.

"I think the biggest obstacle at the moment is that you don't challenge schools sufficiently," he said. "Raising the expectations for what is coming out of schools of education, what's coming out of classrooms, is the first step to achieving greatness here."

Toward the end of his interview, Sentance's opposition to the Common Core — a set of college- and career-ready benchmarks voluntarily adopted by states around the country — drew questions from the board about his ability to reconcile his views with that of board members, who have voted to endorse the new standards.

Sentance said adoption of educational benchmarks is ultimately the board's decision, and his job as superintendent would be to support that decision. He added that states could potentially create better standards on their own. Massachusetts, he said, had better standards before adopting the Common Core.

"You don't sell the best standards in the country away for 30 pieces of federal silver," Sentance said.

The three finalists were chosen by a selection committee comprised of state education and government officials, as well as representatives from the community. The selection committee set a shorter period for accepting and screening applications than in the past, a decision that drew criticism from a group of Republican state lawmakers.

Board Chairwoman Debra Roberts said it was necessary to name a successor quickly to ensure a smooth transition and allow the new superintendent to be adequately prepared for the upcoming Legislative session.

Despite the shortened timeline, Roberts said there was no doubt in her mind that Menlove was the right man for the job, adding that stakeholders had ranked him highest among the finalists. She said the selection process had been rigorous and thorough, putting enormous pressure on office of education staff. 

"This has been an extremely stressful month," she said. "I can't even express how positive it is to have that decision made."