CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Cleveland City Schools Board of Education has appointed the school system's assistant director to serve as interim director of schools, but board members expect to spend months searching for a new chief.
Cathy Goodman will serve as interim chief until a new director is selected to replace Dr. Martin Ringstaff, who was fired for "conduct unbecoming" by the board on Feb. 5 after revelations he exchanged sexually explicit social media messages with a woman other than his wife.
On Monday morning, the board voted 6-0 in a special called meeting to select Goodman to the temporary post.
"I just want the public to know that we are Cleveland City Schools and that we take pride in our system. We are here for our students and we are open for business as usual," Goodman said after the meeting.
Goodman joined the school system as its supervisor of elementary curriculum and instruction in 2002 and has been assistant director for five years. She served in the interim director role during a previous administrative transition.
According to school policy, an interim director cannot be appointed as the next full-time director, board Chairwoman Dawn Robinson said.
Board members speculated that it would take four or five months to find a replacement for Ringstaff.
Robinson opened the meeting by making statements intended to correct previous media reports the board had just renewed or extended Ringstaff's contract during its Jan. 28 meeting. Ringstaff's contract actually was renewed during the board's February 2015 meeting, she said.
During the January 2016 meeting, the board voted only to approve his performance evaluation and make some modification to his benefits package in light of insurance rules that had changed and upon advice of school attorney Chuck Cagle, Robinson said.
Board members Peggy Pesterfield and Murl Dirksen, who voted Feb. 5 against firing Ringstaff without paying him for 17 1/2 days of unused leave, said they had expected his relationship with the school system would come to an end one way or another.
Their only intention was to lessen the possibility that Ringstaff might appeal his removal, they said.
"All of us were unanimous in how we knew this would end: that Dr. Ringstaff would not be continuing his employment with us," Pesterfield said. "I know what litigation is like, I know how long it takes, I know how wearing it is."
Robinson said the board would need to consult with the school attorney about the time frame in which Ringstaff has to make an appeal.
During the meeting, the board received a loud round of applause when an audience member thanked the body for how it has handled the challenges involving Ringstaff's termination.
"It's been a tough one," Dirksen said. "Everybody's hurting, especially the Ringstaff family."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was updated Feb. 8 at 11 p.m. with more information.