ODE programming officer tapped to head agency as state board searches for permanent leader
The chief programming officer at the Ohio Department of Education has been appointed the next interim state superintendent of public instruction.
Chris Woolard was one of two candidates recommended by ODE’s outgoing interim superintendent of public instruction, Dr. Stephanie Siddens, who is leaving to become Upper Arlington City Schools’ deputy superintendent.
Woolard’s first day as interim is May 28 and his salary will be $202,321.60.
“I’m honored to accept this role, and I am committed to working with the State Board of Education to continue advancing the work connected to the agency’s Future Forward Ohio priorities and ensuring a budget that supports Ohio’s students, educators and school communities,” Woolard said said in a statement.
The Ohio State Board of Education approved Woolard by a 12-4 vote Tuesday morning, with board members Sue Hackett and Brandon Kern abstaining from voting. Board members Brendan Shea, Walt Davis, John Hagan and Diana Fessler voted against the resolution to appoint Woolard.
ODE’s chief of staff Jessica Voltolini was the other candidate recommended by Siddens, but it ultimately came down to experience for state board members.
Voltolini has been with ODE for a year and Woolard has worked for ODE since 2003, serving in a variety of different roles over the years, including research and evaluation manager, director of accountability, and senior executive director before becoming the chief programming officer last summer.
“I’m just impressed with the experience,” Board member Meryl Johnson said. “We need someone in that position who has been with the department and has the experience to be able to do the job.”
Board member Tom Jackson echoed those comments.
“I just see the strength and depth of Dr. Woolard’s leadership and the team he has built,” he said. “Both his personal and professional resumes are impressive. All that really indicates to me that he is ready to fulfill the role of interim superintendent.”
Board member Charlotte McGuire said it was a hard choice between the two candidates.
“They are both committed and they have vast experience,” she said. “What I saw and heard was the student outcome and the focus on our children.”
After the vote, McGuire thanked Siddens for her time as interim superintendent, who then received a round of applause from state board members.
“She kept things moving forward,” McGuire said. “She kept us focused, especially even in blending the work of the general assembly, the governor’s office and the senate and house education committees. She was bringing people together so Ohio’s children and Ohio’s future can succeed and flourish.”
Siddens contract with Upper Arlington City Schools begins July 1 and ends July 31, 2025.
Search firm vote
After months of punting the vote, the state board of education appointed Ray & Associates as the search firm to identify superintendent candidates.
Ray & Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha, Nebraska; and the National Association of State Boards of Education in Alexandria, Virginia all gave presentations to the board in December, but the board postponed selecting a search firm several times due to concerns over proposed legislation.
Senate Bill 1, which passed in the Ohio Senate on March 1, would rename the department the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce and restructure the department. It would also create a new leadership position under the governor’s cabinet. Two deputy directors, one for primary and secondary education and another for workforce, would also be created under the bill.
The State Board of Education currently leads the process of selecting a state superintendent, who is the head of the department under the ODE as it stands. In most recent amendments to the SB 1 before it was passed by the Ohio Senate, the Board of Ed would still hold the authority to select the superintendent, but the Senate Education Committee changed the role to act as an “advisor” to the deputy directors, if needed.
Board member Christina Collins said Ray & Associates was up to speed about the proposed legislation.
“They had a plan for how to help us create a job description and possibly change it if it were needed,” she said.
The vote to appoint Ray & Associates was 12-6 with Board President Paul LaRue and board members Shea, Davis, Fessler, Hagan and McGuire voting against.
Ray & Associates is familiar with the state board of education, having previously been used by the state board of education in 2016 to identify candidates for state superintendent. Paolo DeMaria was selected as superintendent that year and retired in 2021.
Ray & Associates has also helped identify superintendent candidates for a handful of Ohio school districts including Cincinnati Public Schools, Bexley City Schools and Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, among others.
There was a originally a vote to once again postpone naming a search firm, but that was voted down 8-10.
Hagan alluded to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the state superintendent’s role because of SB 1.
“Again broken record, but I would suggest that rather than choosing a search firm when we don’t know what the job is, that we postpone this for another month waiting to see what the results are at the legislature,” he said.
Board member Michelle Newman voted no to postpone the vote to name the search firm.
“The continual kicking the can down the road has gotten under my skin a little bit,” she said. “I feel like we are in a position right now, especially with appointing a new interim and knowing there is somewhat of a landscape that I think we can start having the conversations to be able to move this forward.”
There was also a vote to appoint McPherson & Jacobson as the search firm that was voted down 6-12.
Davis voted for McPherson because of the performance data they included in their presentation.
“Those results were very compelling to where they reported that their placements of superintendents, the longevity of the placements was very impressive,” he said.
Newman voted against McPherson & Jacobson due to their lack of “knowledge of our political climate.”
“We have a very significant political climate right now and I believe that has to be a major consideration,” she said. “I was exceptionally nervous selecting a firm that seemed kind of clueless about it.”
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.