School board picks 2 finalists for Utah next education boss

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Two finalists — one a familiar face — have been chosen for Utah’s top education post.After conducting semifinalist interviews last week, the state Board of Education announced Taran Chun and Sydnee Dickson as the top two contenders.

The incoming leader will be the fourth superintendent in five years.Brad Smith resigned Feb. 17 after a period of paid leave related to chronic health issues. Dickson took over when Smith’s leave of absence was announced in January.

Dickson, a veteran of the state Office of Education, has decades of experience in public education as a teacher and administrator.

Chun is a school administrator in Alpine School District. He received a Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education in 2012 when he was principal of Granite Park Junior High School.

The two will be interviewed publicly June 23 at the state Board of Education office, at 250 E. 500 South in Salt Lake City. The interviews will be available to watch live.

Board Chairman David Crandall declined to speak to specific qualifications of each candidate before the public interviews next week.

But, he said, the board is looking for a strong leader who can work well with lawmakers.

“That’s really critical and important,” Crandall said. The Utah Legislature sets public schools’ yearly overall budget.

Crandall also hopes the new superintendent will keep in mind what he says is the purpose of public education — to prepare students to actively engage in their communities and in the political process.

And he’d like the new leader charged with carrying out his board’s objectives to stay longer than his or her predecessors have in recent years.

Even so, Crandall said, “we also recognize this is a high-profile, high-stress, demanding job.”

The board formed a search committee in March to seek Smith’s replacement and launched an online survey in which members of the public could rank qualities a superintendent should possess, including experience as a classroom teacher, a background in executive leadership or human resources, and political acumen.

Smith was Ogden School District’s superintendent when he was hired for the state job in 2014 after a nationwide candidate search.

His tenure came along with turnover in top administrators at the State Office of Education.

He did not say whether his medical concerns contributed to his decision to leave the job, and he wrote in his resignation letter that he had “come to the conclusion that I am no longer able to make a positive contribution as state superintendent.”

Smith was divisive, rankling Utah teachers last year by comparing an education rally at the Capitol to children asking for more toys on Christmas.

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