Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Wayne Lewis

Kentucky Education Commissioner Dr. Wayne Lewis

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Former Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has been named the inaugural dean of Belmont University’s School of Education mere days after he negotiated his departure from the Kentucky Department of Education.

The Nashville, Tennessee-based private university announced the hire Monday. Lewis will start at the school Jan. 1, according to a news release from the school.

“I am often in the position of announcing exciting new construction projects at Belmont, but it’s even more rewarding to announce the addition of such a remarkable leader,” Belmont University President Bob Fischer said in a statement. “Dr. Lewis will help build academic programs in our School of Education, and I could not be more pleased to welcome him to Belmont.”

Lewis negotiated his voluntary resignation with the Kentucky Board of Education on Thursday. As part of the deal, the board agreed to give him 120 days of pay and benefits plus all accrued annual and compensatory leave.

Lewis made $200,000 per year as Kentucky’s education commissioner, a role he had served since he was named interim in April 2018. 

“I look forward to joining the students, faculty, staff and leadership in January as we work together to aggressively build on Belmont’s rich tradition of preparing the most important resource in education: teachers,” he said in a statement.

The state education board named Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney acting commissioner until Kevin Brown, general counsel for Jefferson County Public Schools, takes over as interim on Wednesday. Brown previously served as interim commissioner in 2015 after Terry Holliday retired.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is set to consider an agreement Tuesday allowing Brown to serve as interim commissioner until a permanent replacement is named. The Kentucky Board of Education will conduct a national search for a new commissioner and said neither Kinney nor Brown can be considered for the role.

Lewis, who was a tenured professor at the University of Kentucky, will help lead Belmont's push to make its education program a stand-alone school in the upcoming years.

He'll chair Belmont's teacher education council and oversee undergraduate and graduate programs for teacher licensure, graduate-level leadership programs and other developed at the school, according to the news release.

Bryce Sullivan, dean of Belmont's College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, called Lewis "a transformational leader" for the new education school.

"He combines policy expertise, real-world knowledge about the best-practices in teacher education and a great vision for the future of education," Sullivan said in a statement.

"I look forward to working closely with Wayne as he leads our faculty and staff as they deliver world-class programs designed to educate teachers for students in our community and our world."

Lewis was a subject of criticism from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who became the first governor since the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 to completely reorganize the state education board by executive order.

Beshear, who fulfilled a campaign pledge in reorganizing the Kentucky Board of Education, told reporters Thursday that the decision to remove Lewis as commissioner represented "a positive step toward supporting public education."

"It wasn't just about dismissing Commissioner Lewis," the governor said. "It was about doing what should have been done a long time ago: commencing a national search for the very best commissioner."

Lewis and many appointed to the board by former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin supported education reform efforts, including school choice, that drew the ire of many Kentucky teachers.

Ten of the 11 voting members of the former board have challenged Beshear's executive order in a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court. The judge in that case rejected their request for an injunction to block Beshear's action from taking effect, and both the Kentucky Court of Appeals and Kentucky Supreme Court declined to overturn that decision.

Beshear has relied on a state Supreme Court opinion that he lost as attorney general as affirmation of his authority to reorganize the Kentucky Board of Education. The former members, however, say they can only be removed for cause.

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