ECS board's next task ... to find a new director

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton City Schools is looking for its fourth director of schools in four years.
   Who the Elizabethton Board of Education selects this time could be determined by whether or not the board is interested in using the same organization that has plucked its last two directors away to other systems.
   Boards of education can employ the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) to conduct a Superintendent Search Service, consisting of a complete search or one that has been customized to fit the needs of the particular board.
   "Some systems do statewide, some do the Southeast, and some do national," said Beth Hunter, with TBSA in Nashville. "Rarely do we have to go out and campaign for people. If we have a candidate in mind, we would call that person."
   Hunter said the largest number of searches requested of TSBA came after the General Assembly passed a law requiring directors and superintendents be appointed by a district's board of education rather than being elected by popular vote.
   The system's past two directors have been appointed from within. Dr. Judy Blevins was director of Special Education for ECS when she was appointed by the board of education in November 2001. She took over for Dr. Dale Lynch, who had been the system's assistant director of schools when he was appointed director to replace Dr. Jessie S. Strickland in 2000. Lynch left to become director of the Hamblen County school system after he was contacted through a TSBA search.
   The Elizabethton Board of Education has never employed the services of the TSBA to select a director. ECS board chairman, Dr. Bob Sams, has said the board would conduct a national search for candidates to replace Blevins, whose departure is one of several personnel shakeups the system has experienced in the past two months.
   Director of Special Education, Dr. Carol Whaley, did not receive tenure from the school board in May, while Blevins resigned last week to become director of schools in Campbell County. West Side Elementary School Principal Richard Wilson resigned one day after Blevins quit.
   Felecia Campbell was named to fill Whaley's position in June. Richard VanHuss and Michael Little were elevated to assistant principal positions at Elizabethton High School after then assistants, Amber Honeycutt and Randy Little, elected to return to the classroom.
   Elizabethton High School underwent upheaval in March after Principal Edwin Alexander was suspended by Blevins following a series of complaints -- and attorneys' investigations -- involving harassment allegations made against both. Several dozen students spent days protesting Alexander's suspension until it was lifted on April 3.
   According to budget figures, the school system has spent more than $31,000 in legal fees during the past fiscal year -- roughly $11,000 over the year's budget appropriation.
   TSBA has facilitated superintendent search processes for Campbell and Cumberland counties. While the contract given a director of schools by a school board averages three years, Hunter said she would not characterize the position as having a high turnover across the state.
   "If that person wants to go it doesn't matter if we do their search or not," said Hunter. "If they feel like he or she has accomplished all they can at this system, they move on."
   Elizabethton isn't the only upstate system looking for a new director. Unicoi County is searching for a new director after John Payne, ex-finance director for Elizabethton City Schools, did not have his contract renewed by that county's board of education in May.
   TSBA conducts their search process on three levels based on what a school system requests their involvement be in selecting their next director. Formed in 1939, TSBA works with consultants from the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to assist in the search process.
   Through the TSBA search service, all or any portion of the process will be provided by a consultant from the Center for Education Leadership on a cost basis. The consultant does not participate in the selection process but is available to advise on how to proceed with an offer and how to form an employment contract.
   Hunter explained the Level One search consisted of TSBA advising and assisting a board for the search process from the initial search until a candidate inked the contract to become the director. A Level One search costs roughly $4,000, a Level Two search is $7,500, and a Level Three TSBA search costs $18,000, Hunter said.
   TSBA distributes information about the system to each school system in Tennessee as well as colleges and universities with active colleges of education. The search also schedules interview dates, provides interview guides for the board, performs background checks, and even negotiates the board's contract with the candidate.