DENVER — Michael Bennet LAW ’93, the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, was named Jan. 3 to the United States Senate seat vacated by Ken Salazar.

Bennet will become the eighth Yale graduate currently in the Senate, joining Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, John Kerry ’66 and Arlen Specter LAW ’56, among others.

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Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, whose choice of Bennet was widely seen as a surprise by political observers across Colorado, praised the superintendent as a problem-solver who has proven himself in both the public and private sectors.

“Uncertain times call for certain leadership, and that’s why Michael Bennet is the right choice to represent all Coloradans in the Senate,” Ritter said in a statement. “He has an impressive record of bringing people together to find common ground and common-sense solutions to complex problems, and of turning around troubled public and private enterprises and leaving them far stronger than he found them.”

Bennet, 44, was selected from a pool of candidates including Salazar’s brother, Rep. John Salazar, and Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, according to newspaper reports here. Last month, Bennet was among those considered by the Obama transition team for the position of secretary of education.

Bennet, who has never run for public office, served as counsel to the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. In addition, he was chief of staff to Hickenlooper for two years until being appointed superintendent of Denver Public Schools in 2005.

Although high dropout and low graduation rates still plague the district, and state student assessment test scores lag far behind the state average, Bennet’s tenure as superintendent here has been marked by noticeable gains in student achievement. Since 2004, the number of students in the district scoring proficient or advanced on the test grew an average of 6.3 percentage points, outpacing the statewide average improvement of only 2.5 percentage points.

“My experiences, not only in public service but also in business, have taught me that when people come together, put aside partisan differences, and focus on pragmatic problem-solving, we can accomplish great things,” Bennet said in a statement. “I will bring these values with me as I join a new generation of leadership in Washington, D.C.”

Bennet graduated with honors from Wesleyan University, where his father later served as president. At Yale, he was editor in chief of the Yale Law Journal. His wife, Susan Daggett LAW ’91, is also an Eli, as is his brother, James Bennet ’88, the editor of The Atlantic magazine.

The Denver School Board has named Thomas Boasberg ’86 as the sole finalist to be Bennet’s replacement. Boasberg, also a Yale graduate, is currently the Chief Operating Officer for Denver Public Schools.

Theresa Peña, president of the Board, cited Boasberg’s experience as an important factor in the decision. “He is a talented, visionary, committed leader with an impressive track record of success in managing complex change in previous public service jobs and during his time within the Denver Public Schools,” she said in a statement.

The district plans to formally appoint him as superintendent on Jan. 22.