LINCOLN — Matthew Blomstedt acknowledged that he didn't take the traditional path to becoming Nebraska's chief education executive.
He hasn't spent time as a teacher or as a school administrator.
But Blomstedt, 41, said he could not have had the experiences he's had in educational policy if he'd gone that route.
Education has been a common thread for Blomstedt, a Nebraska native chosen unanimously by the Nebraska State Board of Education on Thursday to be the state's next education commissioner.
Blomstedt is the executive director of the Nebraska Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council, created by law in 2007 to oversee the work of Nebraska's 17 educational service units.
He also has headed the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association and worked as a research analyst for the Nebraska Legislature's Education Committee.
He was appointed to the Nebraska School Finance Review Committee as the school finance expert in 2001 and serves on the leadership committee of the Nebraska P-16 Initiative, an effort to improve student success from preschool through college.
“I want everyone to feel as passionate about education as I do,” Blomstedt said in an interview after accepting the post.
Several board members cited as a strength Blomstedt's leadership of the ESU council, which has put him in contact with some 100 school superintendents across the state.
They also lauded his knowledge of state education policy and funding and his ability to work with people from a variety of groups and across political aisles.
Board President Pat Timm and member Molly O'Holleran of North Platte both stressed that the ability to hit the ground running and inspire trust were other important factors, particularly given the changes schools have faced in statewide tests over the past decade.
Timm said the board's goal is to work in partnership with Blomstedt to ensure that all students learn at high levels and that the achievement gap among groups of students is narrowed.
Board member John Sieler of Omaha said he liked Blomstedt's focus on the need to use multiple assessments to evaluate students' achievement and his interest in helping low-performing schools succeed before listing them as failures.
But Mark Quandahl, a board member from Omaha, noted that finalist Michael Sentance, who has been heavily involved in education reform in Massachusetts and in setting new education standards there, was “refreshingly honest” about areas where Nebraska falls short.
“We've got a choice to stay on the same path we're on or to take the road less traveled,” Quandahl said.
Rachel Wise, a board member from Oakland, Neb., said it remained the responsibility of the board's members, whomever they chose, to make sure the state is on the right path.
Blomstedt said he hasn't seen many bold reform agendas that have actually made a difference.
“If we're really going to make changes in education, we're going to have to do it in an incremental fashion and get significant buy-in,” he said. “My position is we have to really commit to something for the long haul if it's really going to make a difference in students' lives.”
Blomstedt said one of his first tasks will be to focus on the legislative agenda. A measure introduced last year by State Sen. Greg Adams of York and the Education Department would create an accountability system to address schools with achievement problems.
Blomstedt was chosen from among four finalists to replace Roger Breed, who retired June 30. Breed had been education commissioner since 2009.
Breed retired at an annual salary of $211,650. Blomstedt's salary is subject to negotiation.
The state commissioner is the chief executive of the Education Department and serves at the behest of the state board. The commissioner enforces state education policies and rules that affect education throughout Nebraska.
Blomstedt, of Central City, Neb., completed a doctorate in educational leadership and higher education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln earlier this year. He and his wife, Angela, have five children.