LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Southern Regional Education Board has named former Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt as its next president, the group announced Thursday.

Pruitt -- who brokered his resignation with the Kentucky Board of Education as the panel met behind closed doors April 17, the day after Gov. Matt Bevin named six new members to the board -- will start his new role in July, according to a news release.

Pruitt received 90 days' pay as part of the agreement with the state board. Pruitt was expected to recommend state assistance for Jefferson County Public Schools following a 14-month audit of the school district according to some on the Jefferson County Board of Education, but his successor, interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis, instead opted for state management. 

In a phone interview Thursday, Pruitt said he's "really, really honored" by the opportunity.

"My focus is always around equity, and so one of the great things about SREB is it really runs the spectrum," he told WDRB News, noting that the job will also give him a chance to work with governors, lawmakers and education officials on policy.

"We get to work with everything from pre-K all the way through higher ed, and so it will give us an opportunity, give me an opportunity to continue having a focus on ensuring that each child has access to a quality education and working with all the different levels of education."

Pruitt declined to offer his thoughts on the recommended state takeover at JCPS.

"I am no longer the commissioner in Kentucky, so I'll just leave that with the folks who are there," he said.

SREB's Executive Committee picked Pruitt after a nationwide search. The nonprofit group, based in Atlanta and founded in 1948, works with its member groups to improve public education from early childhood to doctoral studies.

Members of SREB are Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

"Dr. Pruitt has amassed an extensive policy, assessment and instructional background in education at the local, state and national levels that will benefit this board and most importantly students across the 16 states represented by SREB," Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, chair of the SREB board, said in a statement.

"This is the only regional organization that encourages collaboration among governors, legislators and state education leaders when it comes to implementing sound policies that positively impact children from early childhood through postsecondary education, and I look forward to working with Dr. Pruitt in building on its success."

Before joining the Kentucky Department of Education as the state's sixth education commissioner in October 2015, Pruitt served as senior vice president of the nonprofit group Achieve, Inc. beginning in 2010. A former teacher, Pruitt also previously held a number of administrative roles with the Georgia Department of Education.

Pruitt said he's done some homework on officials he'll need to stay in touch with in the SREB's member states, but he said he's already built relationships with many policymakers and education officials in his career.

He said his family might keep their home in Kentucky after they move to his home state of Georgia, noting his daughter is a student at the University of Kentucky. He called his time with KDE as "one of the highlights" of his career.

"We have fallen in love with Kentucky, and it's a big part of our lives," Pruitt said. 

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

Copyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.