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Leader of Kalamazoo schools chosen as state superintendent

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s Board of Education on Tuesday chose Kalamazoo Public Schools Superintendent Michael Rice to lead the Department of Education, citing his track record of closing the “achievement gap” among groups of students and his experience as an educator both in and outside the state.

Rice, 56, won the state superintendent job on a 5-3 vote. The board had conducted final interviews with him and two other finalists before making the decision.

Cassandra Ulbrich, the board president, pointed to Rice’s “stellar reputation” in Michigan.

“The combination of his experience and how well he did in the interviews really kind of put him a step above,” she said.

The other final candidates were Randy Liepa, the superintendent of the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency who won support from three board members, and Jeanice Swift, the superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Rice had led the Kalamazoo district for a dozen years. He previously was superintendent of New Jersey district. He began his career as a teacher in the Washington, D.C., district and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University and a master’s and doctorate in public administration from New York University.

“I don’t think there’s any surprise to an in-state candidate what we’re facing here in the state of Michigan, how far we have to go to get back up to the position that we want to be in,” Ulbrich said. She added, though, that it was important to also select someone who “can bring some perspective from other states, (who) might have seen things we’re yet to see and experienced them.”

Michigan has had an interim superintendent, Sheila Alles, for a year since the death of Brian Whiston . Rice is expected to start the job on July 1 and make $216,000 a year — unchanged from Whiston’s final salary and Alles’ pay. Typically the board signs a three-year contract with the option to extend it by an additional year annually on a rolling basis.

The elected board has six Democrats and two Republicans. Five of the six Democrats backed Rice, while the two Republicans supported Liepa.

Rice will take over an education system that is lagging. Fourth- and eighth-graders rank low nationally in reading and trail in math, and there are large gaps in achievement between white and minority students. The Education Department wants Michigan to be a “top 10” state within 10 years.

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