COLUMBIA — Bert Schulte, who has held the state's top education job on an interim basis since the January death of Education Commissioner D. Kent King, is a finalist for the position and plans to interview Wednesday before the State Board of Education.
Schulte, 57, has worked for 27 years in public education, serving Columbia Public Schools as an assistant superintendent from 1991 to 2001. After that, Schulte began work for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and was later named deputy commissioner of the department under King.
Schulte, who has lived in mid-Missouri all of his life, also has four degrees from MU, including a doctorate in education administration. He is married and has two adult daughters, one of whom is a teacher in the St. Louis area.
The other finalists for education commissioner are Dennis Cheek, an educational consultant from Kennett Square, Penn., and Chris Nicastro, superintendent of schools for the Hazelwood School District in St. Louis County.
"They all have a passion for education, children and looking at the role education plays in society," said Kim Ratcliffe, a member of the search committee.
King died on the first day of legislative session, and Schulte stayed busy as interim education commissioner in the days that followed.
“As you go through the legislative session, it’s an intense time in Jefferson City," Schulte said. "It’s been a very dynamic time to be in this situation.”
He said he feels ready to hold the position permanently.
“I have a nice background of experience in public schools and state government that would be a good foundation for moving forward,” Schulte said. “I have a lot of good relationships with leaders across the state.”
His said his priorities, if he is named commissioner, would be to improve opportunities for students after high school and to increase graduation rates, get more funding for early childhood education and try to find innovative ways to spark kids' interest in learning.
Schulte, Cheek and Nicastro were selected by the 10-person search committee composed of Missouri business leaders, educators and former State Board of Education members. The board would like to make a decision by July 1 and have a new commissioner in place before the end of summer, spokesman Jim Morris said.
Schulte acknowledged that the new commissioner will have a high standard to meet. King, he said, “was just truly a champion for kids. He was a very good leader when it came to helping the state move forward.”