By ZACH WENDLING
LINCOLN — Four finalists have been named to be Nebraska’s next commissioner of Education.
A search committee of the Nebraska State Board of Education announced the four finalists Friday. The committee seeks to interview each in public meetings March 30. Candidates will also meet with various groups throughout that day.
The board plans to hold a public meeting March 31 to select the next commissioner.
The finalists are:
- Lisa Coons, chief academic officer for the Tennessee Department of Education, in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Brian Maher, CEO and executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents in Pierre, South Dakota.
- Melissa Poloncic, superintendent of Douglas County West Community Schools in Valley, Nebraska.
- Summer Stephens, superintendent of schools and career and technical education administrator for Churchill County School District in Fallon, Nevada.
“The Board received a strong slate [of] applicants and while choosing finalists was not an easy task, we feel very confident in our selections,” Board President Patti Gubbels said in a statement. “Each finalist brings a unique perspective and extensive experience that will benefit our state.”
The State Board of Education conducted the search in partnership with McPherson and Jacobson, a professional recruiting firm. Community feedback and sessions among board members also helped in selecting finalists.
Three of the four finalists have ties to Nebraska.
Matt Blomstedt resigned Jan. 3 after nine years as commissioner, with a salary of $242,019. In the 2021-22 school year, the Nebraska Education Department oversaw more than 327,000 students and nearly 24,000 teachers.
Coons has led the Tennessee Department of Education since June 2019, leading all birth to grade 12 academic programming, according to her resume.
She graduated with a degree in secondary education in June 1998 from Wright State University and earned her master’s degree in educational technology five years later.
Coons’ salary is $168,948 based on a monthly compensation rate of $14,079.
The Tennessee Education Department serves more than 950,000 students and 70,000 educators across over 1,800 schools in 147 districts.
Maher has led the South Dakota Board of Regents since July 2020; the governor-appointed regents unanimously voted to appoint him to oversee six public universities and two schools for the blind and visually impaired and the deaf and hard of hearing.
He graduated from Midland Lutheran College (now Midland University) with a degree in mathematics education. He later earned a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Nebraska.
Maher has taught or been a school administrator in Clarks Public Schools, Elkhorn Public Schools, Johnson-Brock Public Schools, Waverly Public Schools, Centennial Public Schools and Kearney Public Schools.
In February, Maher announced he would resign in June at the end of his current contract. Maher’s salary was $329,280 in 2021.
The South Dakota regents oversee nearly 34,000 students and over 4,000 employees across six public universities.
Poloncic has led the DC West Community Schools since July 2014. She states in her resume that she fostered positive relationships and “inspired a commitment to students in every decision.”
She graduated with a degree in elementary and early childhood education from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 1991 and earned a master’s degree in educational administration a decade later. She received a Ph.D. in educational administration from NU in 2016.
Poloncic has taught in Nebraska at Doane University, Kearney Public Schools and Sutherland Public Schools. She was also an elementary principal in Millard Public Schools from August 2007 until her new role.
Poloncic’s salary is $185,648.
DC West Community Schools has more than 1,000 students and 160 staff members, according to Poloncic’s resume.
Stephens has led the Churchill County School District in Fallon, Nevada, since 2018, where she develops personalized learning practices and manages a $32 million budget.
She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English language arts with a grades 7-12 certification from Doane College in 1999. She earned a master’s degree in educational leadership three years later. She earned a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2010.
Stephens taught at Bellevue Public Schools and Norris Public Schools and was a professional development consultant for Educational Service Unit #2 in Fremont. She also served as a district administrator for Beatrice Public Schools.
In January, Stephens informed the Churchill County district’s board of trustees in January she would resign effective June 30, most likely to move back to her home state of Nebraska to “pursue new opportunities.” The Nebraska Examiner could not confirm Stephens’ salary with the district, but according to Transparent Nevada, Stephens’ salary was $152,000 in 2021.
The Churchill County School District serves more than 3,000 students across seven schools. According to U.S. News & World Report, 70% of the district’s students are economically disadvantaged.