Candidates narrowed to five in search for new Cleveland City Schools director

Dr. Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association, recommends candidates for the Cleveland City Schools' search for a new director.

Cleveland City Schools is one step closer to having a new director after receiving five recommendations from the Tennessee School Boards Association.

In February, the Cleveland Board of Education fired then-Director Martin Ringstaff for "behavior unbecoming" after he exchanged sexually explicit social media messages with a woman who is not his wife.

The school board then hired the TSBA to conduct a search for its next director. Twenty-six people applied for the position, but two withdrew their applications prior to the April 19 search closing date.

On Monday, the board voted 7-0 to accept the recommended candidates and to conduct interviews between May 4 and May 11. On May 12, the board will meet to decide whether it wants to offer the job to one of the five or consider any of the 19 remaining applicants.

"They are pretty impressive," said board Chairwoman Dawn Robinson.

The five finalists are:

* Dr. Elizabeth Alves, assistant superintendent/chief academic officer, Knox County, Knoxville.

* Dr. John E. Ash, principal, Central Magnet School, Rutherford County, Tenn.

* Dr. Daniel V. Brigman, superintendent, Catawba County Schools, N.C.

* Dr. Russell Dyer, chief of staff, Collierville City Schools, Shelby County, Tenn.

* Dr. Sharon Harper, executive director, Southeast CORE, Tennessee Department of Education.

Board member Charlie Cogdill said he wants the board to consider a candidate that TSBA did not recommend.

"There's definitely one I want to add," Cogdill said. "People in [the central administrative office] are talking to me and teachers in the school system tell me we need to add a name."

Cogdill would not reveal the identity of the applicant, but two Cleveland school administrators did apply: Dr. Joel Barnes, principal of Blythe-Bower Elementary School, and Jeffrey B. Elliott, supervisor of curriculum and instruction.

"In all fairness, we may not find who we want, although these are great candidates," Robinson said.

TSBA Executive Director Dr. Tammy Grissom gave highlights of the five recommended candidates.

Alves has held the Knox County Schools chief academic officer position since 2012. She has served central office positions in Knoxville since 2006, preceded by 10 years of school level leadership posts in Miami. She taught in the classroom for eight years.

Ash has been the Rutherford County Central Magnet School principal since 2009 and served as a middle school principal six years prior to that. His education career began in 1988 and he has held administrative positions for nearly 20 years.

Brigman, who has served as the superintendent of Catawba County Schools since 2012, "resigned last week to pursue other superintendencies," Grissom said. While most of his administrative career has been within North Carolina school systems, he has held other administrative posts in Middle and East Tennessee in 22 years of educational service.

Dyer has served as the chief of staff for the Collierville school system since 2014. He has served in administrative positions within Shelby County school systems since 2001 and has five years of classroom teaching experience.

Harper has served as the Southeast CORE executive director since 2012 and is an adjunct professor at Lee University. She served in administrative positions within the Bradley County school system between 2001 and 2012, following a number of years of teaching experience dating back to 1987.

The number of respondents to the Cleveland City Schools director search beat the average response of 15 applicants for director searchers, Grissom said.

The school board announced it wants the new director in place by mid-June and the salary range should fall between $125,000 and $140,000 per year.

Assistant Director of Schools Cathy Goodman was appointed to serve as interim director in February.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or