A Republican former state lawmaker from Arizona who briefly served as the chief of schools in Wyoming is in line to become Colorado’s next education commissioner.

The State Board of Education, which has been bitterly divided over a number of contentious issues over the last year, voted 6-0 Monday to name Richard Crandall, 48, sole finalist for the position.

Considered to be a moderate Republican, Crandall played a key role in ushering in major changes to education policy in Arizona, including backing the state’s adoption of the Common Core state standards and crafting a teacher evaluation law.

He is poised to begin work in Colorado at a critical juncture, as a hard-fought rewrite of the nation’s signature education law shifts responsibilities away from the federal government and to states.

“It’s my goal to be very open and transparent, to listen to all regardless of political persuasion, whether it’s the far right, far left or right in the middle,” Crandall said Monday in an interview. “The passion for education in Colorado is off the charts. And that’s probably why we’ve had some of the big blowups over the last few years …”

“If people want to have engaging conversations about data privacy, about assessments, about teacher evaluations … I’d rather have people who are engaged than people who say, ‘I don’t care,’” he said.

Crandall signaled an openness to move Colorado away from the Common Core and its membership in PARCC, the multi-state testing effort. At the same time, he praised the importance of high academic standards and the value of comparing test results from several states.

Richard Crandall
Richard Crandall

He noted that two months ago, Arizona cancelled its contract with PARCC, and did so “for the right reasons … They said,  ‘We want to control our own destiny. We want to be able to add questions, take questions away …'” He said Arizona officials concluded, “‘We want to craft what is best for our state.’ That is my position now — let’s craft what is best for our state.”

Crandall also acknowledged the political reality in Colorado. For changes on either front, buy-in is needed from not just the state board but from the state legislature and the governor’s office.

Past legislative efforts to pull Colorado out of PARCC and the Common Core have fizzled because most Democratic lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper have remained committed to both.

“Wherever the state of Colorado decides to go, we are going to be there to strongly support them,” Crandall said.

The board chose Crandall from a field of 65 applicants. State board chairman Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican, said the board interviewed five “very outstanding” candidates last week. The identities of those candidates, however, will not be made public because the board chose Crandall as the sole finalist.

Durham declined to go into detail about the other four candidates, but did say some were from Colorado. The board vote on Monday was 6-0. Democrat Val Flores of Denver missed the vote but said she, too, supported the move.

The board will be able to formally offer the job to Crandall in two weeks. Under statute, the board must wait 14 days before extending an offer after the names of a finalist or finalists are made public, said Tony Dyl, an assistant state attorney general.

State board members described Crandall as a strong communicator well-versed in education policy.

Durham credited Crandall’s “breadth of experience” as a longtime school board member and school board president in the 71,000-student Mesa, Ariz., school district — Arizona’s largest — as well as his seven years of legislative experience. Crandall served as chairman of the education committees in both the Arizona Senate and House. Durham, too, is a former state lawmaker.

Durham said Crandall’s references praised his work ethic and energy.

“You’d like to have someone who is really going to take this on, recognizing we have a really tough job ahead of us,” Durham said. “I think he’s committed to state solutions as opposed to federal solutions. He expressed that in his interview.”

In 2013, Crandall left Arizona to head the Wyoming Department of Education. But his tenure proved to be short. Crandall became director of the department after Wyoming adopted a law replacing the statewide elected superintendent of public instruction as head of the education department with a director appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The state Supreme Court, however, ruled the law was unconstitutional because it left too few duties for the superintendent, and Crandall was out of a job after nine months. Crandall said he knew going in that was a possibility and does not regret taking the position.

Angelika Schroeder, a Boulder Democrat and the state board’s vice chair, said that although Crandall lacks experience as a teacher and principal, his deep knowledge of education policy was a plus. She said she was surprised, given the board’s recent divides, it could unite around a pick.

“This particular process is one that can and should help identify the commonalities,” Schroeder said. “It did give us an opportunity to talk about the things we have in common. We now need a leader to help us articulate that. We really did come together on this, in some cases for different reasons.”

The state board tilts 4-3 in favor of Republicans, although votes have not always fallen along party lines — a reflection of how issues such as standardized tests and how teachers are evaluated can unite policymakers from different parties.

Crandall is set to replace Robert Hammond, who retired last summer. Hammond is credited with helping transform the state Department of Education from a largely regulatory body into one that serves as a support system for school districts, especially rural ones. Hammond’s special assistant, longtime administrator Elliott Asp, has been serving as interim commissioner.

While in Arizona, Crandall helped spearhead teacher effectiveness legislation that tied evaluations to student performance. On Monday, Crandall noted the difficulty of measuring student achievement and growth as instruction has evolved to take in competency-based learning, blended learning and more personalized instruction. He noted that with more collaboration, students have multiple teachers. He said there are ways to adjust evaluations accordingly, “but they are complicated.”

“If we can make sure that it’s fair to teachers, you’d definitely want outcomes to be part of the teacher evaluation,” Crandall said. “But it has to be fair, and it has to be definable and defensible.”

Colorado has yet to fully put in place its own teacher effectiveness law, 2010’s Senate Bill 191, and the law could come in for more scrutiny this upcoming legislative session.

Crandall also has extensive business experience. He is CEO and founder of CN Resource, which “provides oversight and audit services of USDA child nutrition programs for state education agencies,” according to the education department. The company has an annual budget of $2.5 million and employs 65, Crandall said in his application to the state.

He is also chief financial officer and partner of Crandall Corporate Dietitians, which consults for long-term care and assisted living facilities and employs about 400 employees and contractors.

Crandall said he will not continue working in either of those positions. Dana Smith, a spokeswoman for the education department, said Crandall mentioned he has done consulting for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Neither he nor his firm has done work for the education department, she said.

In his application to the state, Crandall emphasized his non-traditional background, citing his “entrepreneurial streak” and qualifications in finance, large organization management and operations.

He acknowledged his lack of classroom experience and wrote that to compensate for that, “I made sure that my top executives in Wyoming were classroom teachers with a variety of leadership experience.” Crandall also formed a task force of 15 teachers to regularly provide recommendations and suggestions — a practice he said he hopes to bring to Colorado.

Crandall earned an accounting degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and a master of business administration degree from the University of Notre Dame. He is working toward a doctorate in education leadership. Crandall is father to seven children and six step-children. His job references include the president of Arizona State University and former Florida governor — and Republican presidential candidate — Jeb Bush.

The state board hired Iowa-based consultants Ray and Associates to help with the search for a new commissioner. The position’s salary is set “in the range” of $245,000 plus benefits but will be negotiated between the board and the candidate. Hammond’s salary was $245,000.

Coming soon: extended comments from Crandall from his interview Monday with Chalkbeat Colorado.