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Ousted commissioner: Greitens never shared his vision for education

Ousted commissioner: Greitens never shared his vision for education

December 7th, 2017 by Associated Press in Local News

Gov. Eric Greitens speaks Wednesday afternoon during a private meeting with rural newspaper reporters in his office.

Photo by Jenny Gray /News Tribune.

Missouri's recently ousted education commissioner, Margie Vandeven, said she had limited contact with Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff and is not aware of anything she did to cause his successful efforts to have her fired last week.

The state Board of Education voted Friday to fire Vandeven, after the governor maneuvered to appoint board members who supported his efforts to bring a new education commissioner to Missouri. But Vandeven said she and the governor never met to discuss his education goals, the Springfield News-Leader reported. The governor never expressed any concerns to her about her performance.

"I didn't have an identified person to work with specific issues on. I participated in cabinet meetings, but we didn't sit down and talk about education policy and what the governor's mission was for education," she said. "We hadn't gotten to that point yet. And I believe now he was waiting."

The firing came after Greitens appointed 10 new members to the education board since July 31. Of the 10, two declined the appointments, one resigned amid pressure to support the firing and two were removed after alleging the governor's office pressured them to quickly fire Vandeven.

Because of those tactics, Vandeven said she wasn't surprised when she was fired and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had been preparing for "the fact that an agency has to be stronger than one person."

A spokesman for Greitens didn't immediately return requests for comment about Vandeven's remarks.

"This isn't about what did Margie do or didn't do," Greitens said Wednesday in a private meeting with rural newspaper reporters. "This is about kids in Missouri and making sure we're getting results for kids in Missouri. When you look at Missouri schools, they've been going in the wrong direction."

Greitens said his main objective is to get money into the classroom.

"We need to reorient the bureaucracy so money is actually getting into the classrooms," he said Wednesday.

Specifically, he said a failure to get results is not acceptable when it comes to public education in Missouri.

"I think we should judge leaders as by whether or not they're actually getting results. I want leaders that are insisting on results," Greitens said.

The state board's first attempt to fire Vandeven ended in a 4-4 vote Nov. 21. After a new board member was appointed minutes before Friday's meeting, she was fired without explanation on a 5-3 vote. The five board members appointed by Greitens voted for her firing. The other three members, all appointed by former Gov. Jay Nixon, wanted her to stay.

Turnover happened so quickly, Vandeven said she had not met any of the new board members and only briefly spent time with two others during a board orientation the day before the 5-3 vote.

Vandeven, a former English teacher who spent nine years working for the education department before becoming commissioner, said she enjoyed a strong relationship with Nixon's administration and the previous education board.

"I was able to walk in and I had weekly meetings with one of his advisers. We talked about the direction, about what was happening," she said. "We provided updates, from both sides, and there was a mutual respect of the roles of each entity."

Vandeven, 49, said she would have liked to stay longer as commissioner but expressed faith in the DESE leadership team. She said she's already fielded several job opportunities but isn't sure what she'll do next, except she wants to stay in education.

Jenny Gray, of the Fulton Sun, contributed information to this article.