LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - Two candidates -- including the lone Kentuckian, as well as the only female -- confirmed to WDRB News on Tuesday that they are not two of the remaining finalists for Kentucky Education Commissioner.

Buddy Berry, superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Ky., says being named one of the five candidates in the search for a new Kentucky Education Commissioner was "one of the most humbling honors of my life."

"There are many Kentuckians that I feel could lead this charge, so to be selected to represent our state in this process was a real blessing," Berry said. "I believe being a finalist has been a testament to all the hard work of our students and staff at Eminence and of our focus on creating the future of what schools can be." 

Kathleen Airhart, deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Tennessee Department of Education, also confirmed she is not among the finalists.

"It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to meet with the Kentucky board," Airhart said. "I was a 'nominated' candidate and had not sought out the position independently. I greatly appreciated their consideration and their time.  I found it to be a very thorough interview process and I was honored to be a small part of it."

The Kentucky Board of Education interviewed five candidates Friday and Saturday in closed session in Lexington. In open session, the board indicated it wants in-depth background checks done on two of the candidates, but would not name which ones.

Aside from Berry and Airhart, the other three candidates include: Christopher Koch, interim president of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) in Washington, D.C.; Lloyd Martin, chief executive officer for Universal School Solutions, LLC, in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Stephen Pruitt, senior vice president at Achieve, Inc., an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization in Washington, D.C. 

Roger Marcum, chairman of the Kentucky Board of Education, told WDRB News on Monday the state has no objection if the five named candidates "self-disclose" whether they’ve made it to final vetting.

Koch, Pruitt and Martin have not indicated if they are among the two finalists.

The board will spend between $10,000 to $12,000 to conduct "extensive background searches" on the two final candidates to prevent any information that may be "embarrassing or disparaging to the state" from being released, Marcum said.

Marcum said the background checks are to avoid repeating the controversy involving Barbara Erwin, the woman who was named education commissioner in 2007, only to resign from the job before her first day after media outlets across the state questioned the integrity of her resume, as well as other concerns.

"We don’t want what happened with Dr. Erwin to happen again," said Marcum, who noted that none of the current board members were on the board that appointed Erwin commissioner. "We are taking this responsibility to properly vet the candidates very seriously."

Terry Holliday was named education commissioner in 2009 and was in charge of overseeing the education of 675,000 students in Kentucky's public schools. His last official day on the job was Monday, Aug. 31.

The state board has appointed Associate Commissioner and General Counsel Kevin Brown to serve as interim commissioner starting Tuesday, Sept. 1, until a new commissioner is installed.

Berry said he feels Kentucky "stands poised for unprecedented educational achievements."

"While I’m disappointed to not be chosen, Kentucky is, and always will be, my home and I can’t thank the Kentucky Board of Education enough for allowing me to be a part of the conversation for its future," he said.

Marcum said he will call a special meeting of the state board once the background checks are complete in two or three weeks.

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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