Cooper: Schools chief should be dispassionate

Dr. Kirk Kelly was elected the new interim superintendent of the Hamilton County Schools system.
Dr. Kirk Kelly was elected the new interim superintendent of the Hamilton County Schools system.

The Hamilton County Board of Education voted Thursday to invite three candidates to interview next week for the job of interim superintendent.

What it did not do was move to revise the policy change it made in 2011 when it declared that an "interim" superintendent "shall not become a candidate" for superintendent unless the board specifically allows that person to do so.

That's how the board got around to installing Rick Smith, who it had named as interim superintendent, as the schools chief several weeks after the policy changes were made.

In the situation of an ailing school system where every move is critical, the decision was particularly unfortunate because two of the three candidates - co-acting superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly and Normal Park Museum Magnet School Principal Jill Levine - are part of the current system.

We believe an interim superintendent, especially at this time and in this school system, should be a person who can come in dispassionately, examine the district structure from top to bottom, make needed changes and set a course for the next superintendent to follow - without having to deal with the politics of being considered for the full-time job.

The interim superintendent should be given plenty of time to do this job, a time period that also would give the school board a year or more to do an extensive search for a superintendent.

That doesn't preclude Kelly or Levine, but naming either one of them raises the possibility that the board would do as it did with Smith and name the interim candidate to be the superintendent after a period of weeks. It would be easy, after all, for either of the two to smooth relationships with the board, with other administrators, and with principals and teachers and convince them they won't rock the boat while they hold the interim position.

The public, though, deserves to know that the board has dispensed with the type of shenanigans it pulled to make Smith the superintendent. They want the boat to be rocked. They don't want things to be the same. They want to see better test results, better schools and a better system that would prepare their children to take jobs with a living wage in an improving Chattanooga workforce.

The third candidate for the interim position is Shaun Sadler, a Hixson High School graduate who is a retired Marine colonel whose wife and parents are educators and who has managed more than 4,800 personnel and a budget of $49 million.

The three candidates for this critical position at what could be a turning point for the Hamilton County Schools will be publicly interviewed at the Department of Education offices next Thursday. We urge all nine school board members to examine their consciences in preparation for this time. We ask them to go further than one board member, who said Thursday he didn't need to interview two of the candidates because he knew them from working in the school system. We implore them to consider the damage of standing still. We ask them to look into the future and see what is best for students and for Chattanooga.

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