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Long IslandEducation

Kenneth Slentz, NYSED deputy commissioner, is candidate for upstate schools post

Ken Slentz, the New York State Deputy Education

Ken Slentz, the New York State Deputy Education Commissioner for Curriculum on Nov. 15, 2013. Photo Credit: Albany Times Union / Skip Dickstein

The state's deputy commissioner for primary and secondary education -- a key player in rollout of Common Core and other reforms -- is angling for a job as superintendent of a small school district near Syracuse.

Kenneth Slentz has held the state Department of Education post for more than two years, slightly longer than he planned, he said Tuesday.

He interviewed last week for the top job in the Skaneateles Central School District, where he would oversee 1,500 students in four schools. The position pays $165,000 to $185,000, subject to negotiation, school board president Kathryn Carlson said.

Slentz, who earns $163,000 a year, is a former upstate Newport school superintendent who joined the Education Department in 2010 to help launch the state components of President Barack Obama's Race To The Top program and implement coursework aligned with the Common Core academic standards, which the state Board of Regents adopted in 2009.

The torrent of criticism from some parents and educators about the Common Core and testing, which has heated up since fall 2012, did not play a role in his decision to seek a different job, he said.

Slentz, 45, said he has faith in the initiatives, even as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other state elected officials have found fault with the department's implementation. "I don't question for a moment that this is the right thing to do," he said. "And I don't question that we did the best we could under the circumstances."

Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, Long Island's representative on the board, said Slentz has provided vital leadership as the department worked to implement the Common Core under a tight federal deadline. "Other superintendents in the state respected him, which is not an easy feat," Tilles said. "In terms of working with stakeholder groups, he was very important."

Slentz called Common Core a set of expectations that all parents would want their children to achieve, even if it proves difficult. The related exams were given for the first time last year, and many students' scores plummeted.

Common Core has spawned a grassroots opposition movement, with thousands of students in grades three through eight across the state refusing to take state standardized tests.

A Newsday survey that drew responses from half the Island's school districts found that some 10,000 children refused to sit for the English Language Arts exam this month.

Slentz called critics "a very vocal group out there that seems to be anti-everything" and said opponents' views are contrary to what he and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. have witnessed in classrooms. "Every week, we are seeing really remarkable examples of leadership -- strong teachers, incredible learning," he said.Slentz said adherence to the Common Core standards will improve learning at each grade level and broaden students' opportunities after graduation.

"I like the idea of kids being more engaged," he said. "And I like the idea of kids struggling when they are within the care of our P-12 educators."

Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch called Slentz a fine man."He has managed change from the front row, and certainly he has dealt with really complex issues around what the next decade of education is going to look like from a policy perspective," she said. "Whoever gets him is going to be lucky."

Before joining the department, Slentz worked in two upstate districts. He was superintendent of the West Canada Valley Central School District in Newport. He also worked as superintendent, principal, curriculum director and as a middle school teacher in the Long Lake Central School District in Long Lake.

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