School board gets names of superintendent finalists after chairman culls list in private

The Hamilton County Board of Education meets for a special session on Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The board approved a balanced budget to be sent to the county commission, and they approved a charter request for Chattanooga Preparatory School.

Info on the finalists:

Natasha Baker: state school reform officer for the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Previously, Baker was the deputy superintendent and state school reform officer in the division of education services for the Michigan Department of Education. Alan Coverstone: assistant professor of education and director of graduate programs in education at Belmont University. Previously, Coverstone was the executive officer of charter schools for Metro Nashville Public Schools, and also served as the executive officer for innovation in the district. Clifford Davis, Jr.: chief of staff for Knox County Schools. Davis has been in Knox County Schools since 2005, previously working as the executive director of secondary education. Jack Elsey, Jr.: chief schools officer for the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan. Prior to this, Elsey was the chief officer of innovation and incubation for Chicago Public Schools. From 2005-2011 he was the managing director of public affairs and school relations for Teach for America, New York. Timothy Gadson III: superintendent designee and executive director of curriculum and schools for Robbinsdale Area Schools in Minnesota. From 2014 to 2016, Gadson worked as the associate superintendent for Atlanta Public Schools. Stuart Greenberg: chief academic officer for Leon County Public Schools in Flordia. Prior to that, Greenberg was the executive director for Reading and Early Learning for the Florida Department of Education. Greenberg was one of the six finalists in Knox County's recent superintendent search. Arthur Wayne Johnson: founder and chairman of First Performance Corporation. Prior to that, Johnson was the CEO of Reunion Financial Services Corporation and a managing partner at Global Education Partners. He lives in Georgia. Bryan Johnson: chief academic officer for Clarksville-Montgomery County School System in Tennessee. Before being named to that position, he served as the director of high schools for the district. Kirk Kelly: interim superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. Kelly has been an educator in Chattanooga City and Hamilton County Schools for 35 years, starting as a math teacher and moving up to assistant superintendent for accountability and testing, before being selected to serve as interim superintendent. Source: Information about each candidate is taken from the résumés emailed to the school board.

More than 48 hours after the list of superintendent finalists was trimmed in secret, Hamilton County Board of Education members were given the names of the nine candidates they'll interview for the post.

School board Chairman Steve Highlander told the board Thursday afternoon that Natasha Baker, Alan Coverstone, Clifford Davis, Jack Elsey Jr., Timothy Gadson III, Stuart Greenberg, Arthur Wayne Johnson, Bryan Johnson and Kirk Kelly will be interviewed. The times will be announced later.

Last week, Highlander told each board member to name 10 candidates they wanted to interview from the pool of 14. He asked for two lists, each in alphabetical order, with the first list representing their top five choices.

On Tuesday, Highlander, the board secretary and a representative from the search firm, Coleman Lew and Associates, tabulated the results in private. Highlander has not said what method was used to tabulate the results, or whether candidates on the members' top five lists were weighted differently from those on their second lists.

State law says the board must deliberate in public and members may not cast secret votes or use emails as a way to avoid open meetings laws.

"All votes of any such governmental body shall be by public vote or public ballot or public roll call. No secret votes, or secret ballots, or secret roll calls shall be allowed," according to state law.

The Times Free Press requested the board members' emailed lists of candidates Tuesday. The emails are public records in Tennessee.

Highlander released the emails to the Times Free Press on Thursday, after the search firm contacted each candidate.

According to the emails, school board members Joe Galloway, Karitsa Mosley Jones, Kathy Lennon, David Testerman and Highlander all included Kelly, the district's interim superintendent, on their lists of top-five candidates.

Lennon, Galloway and Testerman advocated for hiring Kelly as permanent superintendent in November before the board decided to hold a search. Board members Tiffanie Robinson and Joe Wingate were the only ones not to name Kelly among their total 10 candidates.

One other candidate, Arthur Johnson, also appeared on five board members' lists of top-five candidates.

Scott Bennett, the school board attorney, earlier this week defended the process for narrowing the finalist list. He argued the board did not violate the state's open meetings law because board members did not meet together and discuss their opinions or work toward a consensus. He said board members just shared their interview choices with Highlander via email, and he then determined the number of candidates to interview and who to interview based on those preferences.

"The board certainly could have done this whole thing in an open meeting, and the only reason they did it by email is for expediency," Bennett said Tuesday.

Testerman said Thursday he thinks the superintendent search process could have been more transparent, and he said several board members are frustrated they had to wait two days to learn the finalists.

"I hope we can be better with [the process] going forward," he added.

Testerman said this search needs to be one of the board's top priorities, and he hopes the video interviews with candidates will be scheduled soon.

It's been more than a year since former Superintendent Rick Smith resigned after months of turmoil following the Ooltewah High School rape case. The school board in November hired the search firm at a cost of about $60,000.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at [email protected] or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

How they voted:

Joe Galloway:1-5 Alan Coverstone Kevin Gaffney Stuart Greenberg Bryan Johnson Kirk Kelly 6-10 Clifford Davis Natalie Elder Timothy Gadson Arthur Wayne Johnson Andre Wright Steve Highlander: 1-5 Alan Coverstone Clifford Davis Arthur Wayne Johnson Bryan Johnson Kirk Kelly 6-10 Timothy Gadson Kevin Gaffney Stuart Greenberg Verna Ruffin Andre Wright Karitsa Mosley Jones: 1-5 Natasha Baker Clifford Davis Natalie Elder Nakia Towns Edwards Kirk Kelly 6-10 Jack Elsey Timothy Gadson Bryan Johnson Verna Ruffin Andre Wright Kathy Lennon: 1-5 Clifford Davis Jack Elsey Timothy Gadson Kirk Kelly Andre Wright 6-10 Natasha Baker Nakia Towns Edwards Stuart Greenberg Bryan Johnsn Verna Ruffin Tiffanie Robinson: 1-5 Alan Coverstone Timothy Gadson Stuart Greenberg Arthur Wayne Johnson Andre Wright 6-10 Clifford Davis Nakia Towns Edwards Natalie Elder Jack Elsey Bryan Johnson Joe Smith: 1-5 Natasha Baker Jack Elsey Timothy Gadson Arthur Wayne Johnson Andre Wright 6-10 Bryan Johnson Alan Coverstone Stuart Greenberg Kirk Kelly Verna Ruffin David Testerman: 1-5 Natasha Baker Clifford Davis Jack Elsey Bryan Johnson Kirk Kelly 6-10 Alan Coverstone Timothy Gadson Stuart Greenburg Arthur Johnson Verna Ruffin Rhonda Thurman: 1-5 Kevin Gaffney Stuart Greenburg Arthur Johnson Bryan Johnson Andre Wright 6-10 Alan Coverstone Clifford Davis Jack Elsey Timothy Gadson Kirk Kelly Joe Wingate: 1-5 Natasha Baker Timothy Gadson Stuart Greenberg Arthur Wayne Johnson Andre Wright 6-10 Clifford Davis Nakia Towns Edwards Jack Elsey Kevin GaffneyBryan Johnson