In a 5-4 vote, Bryan Johnson selected as next Hamilton County Schools Superintendent

Hamilton County Schools superintendent candidate Dr. Bryan Johnson speaks to the public during a meet-and-greet in the Board of Education meeting room on Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Dr. Johnson is the fourth of five candidates to interview for the position.

Read a full story as seen in the Friday, June 16 Times Free Press here.


The Hamilton County Board of Education voted 5-4 tonight to name Tennessee educator Bryan Johnson the district's permanent superintendent.

It took one round of voting for Johnson to receive the five votes he needed to secure the post, which former Superintendent Rick Smith vacated 15 months ago.

Kirk Kelly, interim superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, received votes Thursday night from board members Joe Galloway, David Testerman, Karitsa Mosley Jones and Kathy Lennon. But school board members Steve Highlander, Tiffanie Robinson, Joe Wingate, Joe Smith and Rhonda Thurman cast votes for Johnson.

Since 2008, Johnson has worked in Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools, a large Tennessee district north of Nashville. He started his career teaching and coaching in the school system and was promoted through the ranks and named chief academic officer in 2015.

Johnson was the only candidate selected by all nine board members last month when they narrowed the list to five finalists.

During his interview with the board last week, Johnson said parents shouldn't have to worry about whether their children are receiving a quality education in Hamilton County's public schools.

"My job day 1 is to make sure these 44,000 students get what they deserve," Johnson said.

The last time a school board picked a superintendent from more than one finalist was in 1997, when it voted to hire Jesse Register, the first superintendent to lead the merged city-county school system.

Johnson will be the fourth permanent superintendent to lead the merged district.

Arthur Wayne Johnson, a Georgia businessman, pulled his name from consideration today before the vote.

Timothy Gadson III and Stuart Greenberg were also finalists for the post, but didn't receive any votes Thursday night.

See tomorrow's Times Free Press for the full story.


For the first time in 20 years, Hamilton County school board members find themselves having to make a choice when it comes to selecting a superintendent.

Board members are expected to pick a permanent superintendent today, deciding among Timothy Gadson III, Stuart Greenberg, Arthur Wayne Johnson, Bryan Johnson and Kirk Kelly, who's been serving as interim superintendent of Hamilton County Schools for more than a year. The board remains split on whether it wants to keep Kelly or go with an outside candidate.

The last time a school board picked from more than one finalist was in 1997, when it voted to hire Jesse Register, the first superintendent to lead the merged city-county school system. Register retired from the post in 2006 but stayed on for a year as a consultant.

The board conducted a national search and hired Jim Scales in 2006. After the other candidates dropped out, Scales was the lone finalist. Five years later, the board voted 6-3 to buy out the remainder of his contract and then named Rick Smith deputy superintendent to the post.

Smith was a more than 25-year veteran of the school district and a holdover from the county school system. Without conducting a search, the board named him permanent superintendent in a 5-3 vote in 2011.

Smith resigned last March, after weathering several tumultuous months following the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by his basketball teammates and the surfacing of a state report detailing the lack of progress being made in the district's lowest-performing schools.

The board had changed its policy to hire Smith, as its rules then called for a series of meetings, the approval of a timeline, a possible outside search, and public interviews before the selection of a superintendent. Board policies also encouraged the interim candidate to not be named as a permanent superintendent, and stated that a doctoral degree is preferred, but there was no explicit requirement. The board also previously needed a supermajority of its nine members to name a superintendent.

Now the board only needs five votes to name the district's leader.

School board Chairman Steve Highlander said Wednesday that the board is still undecided about which methodology the board will use to narrow down the five finalists, adding that he wants to ensure the board does not get stuck in a deadlock tonight.

"It's a board decision how we vote," Highlander said. "Not a me decision."

It's likely each board member will cast a single vote for a candidate during the first round or each member could also list several candidates in a weighted list as a way of narrowing the slate of finalists. Highlander also said he has a few other ideas about a voting system the board could use, but did not provide specifics.

Highlander said each of the five finalists offer something very different, and that the district will benefit when it has a long-term leader in place. He added that it's time the district has a steady vision.

"We need a panorama vision and not tunnel vision," he added.

In the days leading up to the vote, school board members have been vague about their picks for the post. But front-runners appear to be Bryan Johnson, Wayne Johnson and Kelly.

Since 2008, Bryan Johnson has worked in Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools, a large Tennessee school district north of Nashville. He started his career teaching and coaching in the school system and was promoted through the ranks and named chief academic officer in 2015.

The unconventional candidate, Arthur Wayne Johnson, is a businessman based in Georgia with a long résumé detailing the companies he's founded and work he's done in the banking and credit card industry. Johnson doesn't have experience working in public education, but he earned his doctorate in education leadership last year.

Kelly is a 35-year veteran of the district, and before being named interim superintendent, he served as the assistant superintendent of testing and accountability under Smith.

Greenberg also has more than three decades of experience in education and is the chief academic officer for Leon County Public Schools in Florida. Before that, he was executive director for Reading and Early Learning for the Florida Department of Education.

The fifth candidate, Gadson, is the superintendent designee and executive director of curriculum and schools for Robbinsdale Area Schools, a district just outside of Minneapolis. Before that, he worked in districts in Atlanta, Texas and Florida.

Jared Bigham, coordinator of Chattanooga 2.0, a community initiative to improve education outcomes and strength the county's workforce, said the vote is important and will impact generations of kids.

All of the strategies Chattanooga 2.0 is hoping to use to improve the county's public schools hinges on great educators, Bigham said. He hopes the district's next leader will implement an aggressive human capital strategy that recruits, retains and supports the best teachers and principals possible, and goes beyond just offering raises.

Regardless of the superintendent chosen, Bigham hopes Chattanooga 2.0 and the school district will continue to have a good, candid relationship to set high expectations and support greater opportunities for all students, regardless of ZIP code.

"[The board's] decision sets the tone for its collective vision and philosophy of education for Hamilton County Schools," Bigham said. "The average tenure for an urban superintendent is 3.2 years, so to me, the disposition of a school board and the type of candidate a board chooses sets the tone for the district and outlasts the person they choose."

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at or 423-757-6592.

If you go

The Hamilton County Board of Education will begin discussing the superintendent finalists tonight at 5 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Hamilton County Department of Education, located at 3074 Hickory Valley Road, Chattanooga, TN 37421.