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The five candidates for the state superintendent's job in Michigan are, from left, Brenda Cassellius, Randy Liepa, Michael Rice, Jeanice Swift and G. Eric Thomas.

The five candidates for the state superintendent’s job in Michigan are, from left, Brenda Cassellius, Randy Liepa, Michael Rice, Jeanice Swift and G. Eric Thomas.

Here are the five people who could land Michigan’s top education job

Three Michigan superintendents, the former head of Minnesota schools, and a Georgia school turnaround specialist. Those are the five applicants for the state superintendent’s job in Michigan who are being invited for interviews.

The State Board of Education whittled down an initial field of 51 applicants to the five during a nearly four-hour meeting Friday, most of which was conducted in a closed session.

Here are the five applicants with a shot at the job:

  • Brenda Cassellius, former commissioner, Minnesota Department of Education
  • Randy Liepa, superintendent, Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency
  • Michael Rice, superintendent, Kalamazoo Public Schools
  • Jeanice Swift, superintendent, Ann Arbor Public Schools
  • G. Eric Thomas, chief turnaround officer, Georgia Board of Education

Their interviews will be conducted on April 22 and April 24 in Lansing.

The board has been searching for a replacement for Brian Whiston, the state superintendent who died of cancer nearly a year ago. Sheila Alles, who had been a deputy superintendent, has been served as interim superintendent.

The job pays a salary of $216,000 annually.

Casandra Ulbrich, the president of the state board of education, said in a statement that the board reviewed applications for a large number of qualified candidates and that choosing just five proved “really tough.” Those getting interviews, she told reporters, represent “a diverse group of people from diverse backgrounds.”

Ulbrich said two of the final five contenders are African-American.

One of the five candidates, Randy Liepa, was interviewed for the superintendent’s job back in 2015, the last time the job was open. The board ended up selecting Whiston.

The state superintendent is hired by the elected and partisan state board and oversees the Michigan Department of Education. That person also sits on the cabinet of the governor.

Earlier in the day, during an interview with Chalkbeat Detroit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was asked if she would have any influence on the search.

“I am going to have a number of conversations about who the right person is,” Whitmer said.

She said the ideal candidate is someone who isn’t afraid “to take on the challenges that are inherent to the department of education, isn’t afraid to question contracts, and someone who can rebuild “the infrastructure and morale in a department that’s really important but that is a fraction of the size it used to be, with a lot more responsibility.”

The superintendent also needs to be able to bring people together and work with the Michigan Legislature.

“That skill set is incredibly important, and not everyone has it,” Whitmer said. “As I get to know more about the candidates, I’m certainly going to take a serious interest in who that person is.”