Cleveland Board of Education picks new director of schools

The Cleveland Board of Education has picked Dr. Russell Dyer of Collierville, Tenn., to be its next director of schools.

Dyer is the current chief of staff for the Collierville school system. He has held administrative positions in Shelby County schools since 2001 and has five years of classroom teaching experience.

In February, the school board fired then-director Dr. Martin Ringstaff for "behavior unbecoming" after revelations he exchanged social media messages of a sexual nature with a woman other than his wife. The board then appointed Assistant Director of Schools Cathy Goodman to serve as interim director.

On Thursday, the board voted 6-0 in favor of Dyer, who was one of 26 candidates who applied for the job. Board Vice Chairman Murl Dirksen was out of the country, education officials said.

Board Chairwoman Dawn Robinson said the director search was "a long and pleasant process" and that she "tossed and turned in bed at night" about making her decision.

The board also voted to offer Dyer a three-year contact that pays $132,500 annually. The benefit package includes 100 percent payment of the director's health and dental insurance premiums and a $600 monthly automobile allowance.

"I'm very excited to have the offer on the plate," Dyer said in a phone interview. "I look forward to working out the contract details and moving forward in the near future."

On May 12, the board narrowed the top contenders down to Dyer and Dr. Elizabeth Alves, chief academic officer for Knox County Schools. Alves has served in central office positions since 2006. Before that, she held school-level leadership positions in Miami for 10 years and taught for eight years.

Cleveland school board members met with members of Dyer and Alves' home communities as part of the decision-making process.

"Both were excellent, excellent candidates," said board member Peggy Pesterfield, who also cited the importance of feedback the board received about the pair.

Although "a lot of great candidates" responded to the director search, the hiring decision has to based upon who makes the best fit for the school system based on their strengths and the needs of Cleveland schools, Robinson said.

During the board's visits to Knoxville and Collierville, board member Steve Morgan asked people to use one word to describe the candidates.

"Integrity" and "character" were common responses received about Dyer, board members said. Other comments included "cool under pressure," "loves kids" and "big-picture guy."

Board members said they were impressed with Dyer's experience of having to build the Collierville school system from scratch when the Shelby County school system recently folded, requiring Memphis and surrounding municipalities to pick up the pieces.

Now is the time for a fresh start, Morgan said.

"[Dyer] will be a good closer for rallying the troops, healing the troops and healing what's gone on here," he said.

The school board will not need to deliberate further on the agreement if Dyer accepts the offer without requesting any changes, Robinson said. If the board needs to consider any changes, members will do that during its June 6 meeting, she said.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or Follow on Twitter @pleach_tfp.