Subscribe for 99 cents

JEFFERSON CITY • In a stinging rebuke to former Gov. Eric Greitens, Missouri education officials are rehiring the commissioner who was ousted from her job last year.

Margie Vandeven, who was dismissed last year by a board that had been revamped by Greitens, will resume the $191,544 post she had held since 2015, officials said Tuesday.

“It is an honor to return to the department, and I remain committed to doing what is best for the children of Missouri. I look forward to working with stakeholders from across our state — urban, rural and suburban. Through active collaboration among state and local leaders, educators and our families, we will — together — advance opportunities for each student,” Vandeven said in a statement.

Vandeven was among four finalists for the position, which had been vacant since December after Greitens’ failed attempt to bring in his own candidate to lead the 1,650-employee agency.

The scandal-plagued ex-governor spent much of last year stacking the school board with his own appointees. Without any public explanation, the new board members then moved to fire Vandeven, despite her receiving high marks from school advocates and other education observers.

The board, however, was unable to hire a replacement after members of the state Senate – angered by the governor’s actions — blocked the confirmation of the appointees, leaving the board with too few members to officially meet.

After Greitens’ hasty departure, Gov. Mike Parson nominated new board members who were not opposed during a less-confrontational Senate confirmation process.

In a statement, Parson highlighted that Vandeven was chosen by an “independent” state board.

“Moving forward, we will continue working with Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to focus efforts on ensuring our students have the skills to succeed and meet the demands of tomorrow’s workforce,” Parson said.

Vandeven’s rehiring comes after a monthlong application process drew five applications and seven nominations. Vandeven said she was among those nominated.

The board winnowed that down to four with an eye on getting the new commissioner on board in January and agreed on Vandeven after a 90-minute interview with her on Monday.

Other candidates included Rockwood School District Superintendent Eric Knost, who is retiring from the St. Louis County district at the end of the school year.

“We were blessed with really great candidates,” said school board President Charlie Shields.

Shields said Greitens was not a factor in the hiring process.

“This was never about righting a wrong,” Shields said. “This was about the ability to continue to move the state forward when it came to education.”

“I really don’t hold any grudges at this point,” Vandeven added. “I plan to hit the ground running.”

Vandeven launched her career in 1990 as a communication arts teacher in private schools in St. Charles County. From 1995-2002 she taught high school English and served as an administrator in Maryland, before returning to Missouri as an English teacher and administrator.

She started in the state’s top post in January 2015.

Vandeven had been working in the private sector as director of educational partnerships for the SAS Institute.

Roger Dorson, interim commissioner, has led the department since December.

“I want to thank Roger for his amazing leadership during a challenging time as well as express my appreciation to the education community for its support,” Shields said. “We look forward to continuous progress for the department under Margie’s leadership.”

School advocates also signaled their support of the move.

“The State Board of Education has made an excellent choice to rehire Dr. Margie Vandeven as commissioner of education. Dr. Vandeven has a proven track record of effective leadership for both the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and for public education in Missouri,” said Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch