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Embattled Alabama State Chief Defends Record, Asks For Time to Fix Schools

One of the many frustrations school district employees have expressed regarding the constant churn of leadership at state education departments is that it can lead to very short shelf lives for reform initiatives. 

The average tenure of state chiefs is two years and four months now, down a third from the average tenure in 2009.

Researchers say education leaders typically need a year to figure out what the problem is, another year to implement policies to fix the problem and then a year to study its effect. 

Alabama's state chief, Michael Sentance, has been on the job for barely a year and state board members there will decide his fate tomorrow after several district superintendents lobbed complaints about his leadership style and policy direction.  

In a revelatory sit-down with Al.com last week, Sentance said he's traversed the state in the last year planning new initiatives to turn around the state's schools after  former Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said the Alabama's education system "sucks."

"Some of this is just time," Sentance said . "Just time to see and talk to people and have them air their concerns and engage in the conversation. Some of this is going to be a matter of putting the policies in place and seeing that, gosh, this is actually working, and there are some things that are actually improving. And that's difficult because we're really at the front end of all of that."  

Thursday's state board meeting comes just a month before the state has to turn in its ESSA plan.

At least three of the nation's chiefs are interim and more than a quarter have been hired in the last two years alone.  

That sort of track record has alarmed policy advocates who say there needs to be stability at state departments as they take on state-specific initiatives under the Every Student Succeeds Act this fall. 

Alabama's board is also set to decide whether to scrap the Common Core State Standards Thursday.  

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