Local input sought for superintendent

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com
Representatives of the Tennessee School Board Association were in Elizabethton Tuesday meeting with principals, teachers, and central office personnel, as well as business leaders, to collect criteria in their search for a new superintendent for the Elizabethton School System.
Randall Bennett and Beth Hunter met with more than a dozen business leaders at a noon luncheon to hear their thoughts on qualities they wish to see in a new school superintendent.
The TSBA has been employed by the Elizabethton City School Board to lead the search for viable and qualified candidates to fill the superintendent's post, which was vacated by the resignation of Dr. Judy Blevins this summer.
The TSBA Search Committee will meet with the public Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in the School Board Room of the City School Administration Office to seek input on the process.
Bennett opened the forum by telling those assembled, "We are not here to choose a superintendent for you. We are here to help your board to find the right person for the job. Through these meetings, we will compile a list of criteria, which we will bring back to the board for approval. Once it is approved, we will advertise the position on the Internet and through brochures and other venues to help find the best person possible for your school superintendent."
Bennett said the list of criteria will be presented to the school board on Sept. 9 for approval, after which the job will be advertised.
Bennett proposed three questions:
* What do you think is positive and good about the Elizabethton City School System?
* What changes would you like to see in the school system?
* What qualities do you think the search committee should look for in selecting a candidate?
The discussion led local businessman David Wortman to express that he feels the new superintendent should come from outside the system and not be a local resident. "I think it is time for a fresh face, time for someone outside the system. We've had too much conflict, too many internal issues to work with in the past ... hiring someone outside the system would cut down on the nepotism and too-close friendships that have been a problem with past superintendents," he said.
City Commissioner Richard Sammons, who is a local CPA, said he would like to see more emphasis placed on classical arts in the future. He also said he felt it necessary that the new superintendent be a person of extremely high character.
Scott Oliver, Administrator of Sycamore Shoals Hospital, said experience should be high on the list. "We need someone seasoned, not someone who will be cutting their teeth on the job here," he said. He also suggested that the school system, especially the high school, partner with local businesses to get students more involved in careers.
Some pluses for the system listed by the group included the quality of education offered by the city; the quality of teachers and students; respect the school system receives in the area and state, and the level of parental involvement. City Manager Charles Stahl noted that the city has always had a good working relationship with the school board and central office.
"I have worked with four superintendents in the nine-and-a-half years that I have been here, and we have had a good working relationship with all of them. I think the new superintendent should know that a good consensus has already been built. All that person will need to do is embrace it and perhaps enhance it," he said.
In addition to experience and character, other qualities suggested by the group included good communication skills, strong leadership skills, and the ability to say "no."
Wortman said in light of strict enrollment standards for universities and colleges, local students need to be challenged, and one way he suggested doing that was instituting a longer school day.
Mayor Sam LaPorte said he would like to see the turnover among teachers and principals reduced.
Bennett said he felt the salary offered by the city ($83,000) is such that it will attract good candidates. "I don't think there will be any problem there," he said.
School Board Member Bob Berry questioned if a candidate for the job would feel secure coming to the system after losing four superintendents in four years. "I do not think your problems are insurmountable, and I think when you add in the quality of life that Elizabethton has to offer, it is an attractive position," Bennett replied.
Barbara Treadway, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the need to stress the benefits of the community. "It is a beautiful place, and the greatest people in the world live here. We have so many pluses, and that is what we need to focus on," she said.
The TSBA team met earlier in the day with principals and central office personnel, and later in the day with teachers.