Hamilton County school board agrees to hire superintendent search firm

Newly appointed school board committees:

Facilities: David Testerman (chairman), Joe Galloway, Karitsa Mosley Jones and Joe WingateTechnology: Mosley Jones (chairwoman), Wingate, Galloway and TestermanFinance: Tiffanie Robinson (chairwoman), Rhonda Thurman, Greg Martin and Kathy LennonPolicy: Thurman (chairwoman), Lennon, Martin and Robinson

A Hamilton County school board member made a motion at Thursday night's meeting to hire Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly as the permanent leader of the school system. But the board instead decided to hire a firm to help conduct a national search for the district's next leader.

As soon as the meeting began, newly elected board member Kathy Lennon proposed the motion to hire Kelly.

"We have educated and experienced professionals in place right now that are innovative and progressive in the field of education," Lennon said. "This is what is best for our students."

School board members David Testerman and Joe Galloway echoed Lennon's support of Kelly's leadership. But the board could not vote on the motion because it had not notified the public about the move at least 15 days in advance, as required by policy.

A counter-motion was quickly brought by school board member Greg Martin to have the board select a search firm to find the district's next leader, and the board unanimously voted in support.

This vote was followed by another vote to select a firm.

Last month, the school board interviewed three organizations that could conduct the search: the nonprofit Tennessee School Boards Association and firms McPherson & Jacobson LLC and Coleman Lew and Associates Inc.

Four board members voted in favor of Coleman Lew and Associates, three voted for McPherson & Jacobson LLC and two voted for TSBA Thursday night.

Since there was not a majority, the board dropped TSBA and voted again, and Coleman Lew and Associates received five votes from Tiffanie Robinson, Joe Wingate, Karitsa Mosley Jones, Martin and Lennon.

Coleman Lew and Associates estimated the cost for the search would be $60,000, the most expensive price tag of the three groups considered.

During Coleman Lew and Associates' previous interview with the board, representatives boasted about the firm's experience seeking out candidates, saying it is aggressive in its recruitment approach - it doesn't just post the job opening and screen candidates. The firm was also confident it could provide the board with non-traditional candidates, like someone with experience in the business world.

Galloway told the board that while he did not select the firm in either of the night's votes, he would be supportive and work with its representatives, encouraging other board members to do the same.

"If everybody is on the same page, you'll be successful," Galloway said. "I want us to be a team as we select a superintendent."

Lennon and several members of the community asked that the superintendent search include the community.

UnifiEd, an education advocacy nonprofit, has asked the board to adopt a resolution committing to making candidate résumés public, hold public interviews of the candidates, create a community advisory council and hold an open forum for community members.

State law or school board policy requires the board to do everything but create the community advisory council.

School board chairman Steve Highlander asked the board's policy committee to provide a recommendation for a community involvement plan for the search, and asked that the search firm also develop a community involvement plan.

Thurman disagreed, pointing out the community can already attend any of the interviews and said they are involved in the process by electing their school board representative.

"I am the advisory council for District 1, so there is no advisory council for me," Thurman said. "If everybody else wants to figure out an advisory council, that is up to you."

After the meeting, Jonas Barriere, UnifiEd's executive director, said he was encouraged that members of the school board are taking community involvement in the search seriously.

"Tonight's school board meeting was very encouraging for families, students, teachers and stakeholders in Hamilton County," he said. "We applaud the school board's decision to move forward with a comprehensive community involvement plan."

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or krainater@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.