LINCOLN — Two of the four people vying to become Nebraska's next commissioner of education are former teachers who worked their way up to lead school districts.
The other two finalists built careers in the policy side of education.
Two live in Nebraska and a third has solid Nebraska connections. The other hails from Massachusetts, a high-flying state in student achievement.
Lillie Larsen, a member of the Nebraska State Board of Education, said she's pleased with the caliber of candidates after the eight-month search process that started when former commissioner Roger Breed announced last winter that he would retire.
“We've given the time to it to do it right,” Larsen said.
Board member John Sieler said: “I'm glad we had two from Nebraska and two from out of state. I think that gives us a good choice.”
The commissioner is the chief executive of the Nebraska Education Department and serves at the pleasure of the state board. The commissioner enforces state education policy and rules that affect education throughout the state.
The former teachers are Norman Ridder, who is superintendent of Springfield R-12 Public Schools in Springfield, Mo., and Virginia Moon of Omaha, who most recently served as interim superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools.
Ridder, who was born in West Point, Neb., taught and coached at Pope John High School in Elgin, Neb., and at Cathedral High School in Omaha.
He's been a leader in both private and public school systems.
A former principal, he also worked as director of education at Father Flanagan's Boys Home in Boys Town and as superintendent for the Archdiocese of Denver.
Moon, who also has headed the Ralston and Broken Bow school districts, worked as a teacher and media specialist in Nebraska and Iowa schools.
She was a principal and an assistant superintendent in Garden City, Kan., and later assistant superintendent in Papillion-La Vista Schools.
The finalists who took the policy and legislative route are Matthew Blomstedt of Central City, Neb., and Michael Sentance of Concord, Mass.
Blomstedt is executive director of the Nebraska Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council, which coordinates the activities of 17 state ESUs that provide supplementary services to school districts.
Before that, he served from October 2006 to December 2008 as research analyst for the Education Committee of the Nebraska Legislature.
He also directed the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association and worked as a consultant on school, tax and finance issues.
Sentance indicates in his résumé that he was most recently president of education reform strategies for a United Kingdom-based consulting group called Tribal Group.
In October 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him to be the representative from the New England region to the U.S. Secretary of Education.
According to his résumé, he was senior education adviser to the governor of Massachusetts from 1996 to 2001. Before that, he served a year as the state's secretary of education and four years as the undersecretary of education for policy and planning.
Last February, he was a finalist for the position of Ohio superintendent of public instruction.
The four were selected from 20 applicants to replace Breed, who retired June 30. He had been commissioner since 2009.
The finalists were recommended by a four-member committee of the State Board of Education: Patricia Timm, Mark Quandahl, Rebecca Valdez and Lynn Cronk.
The full board will interview the finalists Wednesday at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, beginning at 9 a.m.
The board expects to select the commissioner at a special meeting Wednesday or Thursday.