Dr. Kirk Kelly, left, talks with Dr. Steve Highlander during a school board meeting Sept. 15, 2016, at the Hamilton County Department of Education.

Groups and individuals meeting with Coleman today

› Chattanooga 2.0

› UnifiEd

› Central office staff focused on curriculum and instruction

› Central office staff focused on operations and finance

› Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly

› Members of the Hamilton County Principals Association

› Hamilton County Education Association President Dan Liner and a group of teachers

› Members of the Parent Teacher Association

› Hamilton County Commission Chairman Chester Bankston

› Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley

Source: School board Chairman Steve Highlander

The search firm helping the Hamilton County Board of Education select its next leader will meet privately with a number of education stakeholders today before a public meeting with the board this afternoon.

Among the list of people and groups meeting with the firm is Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly, who stated last year his intention to apply for the permanent position.

School board Chairman Steve Highlander, who scheduled the meetings with Coleman Lew and Associates, said he hopes to give the firm a chance to gather information about who will best lead the district.

Highlander said allowing Kelly to meet individually with Coleman is not intended to provide him an advantage in the search process, but will provide the firm with a helpful perspective.

"Coleman can't go out and gather [candidates for the permanent position] if they don't understand the perspective of those on the inside," Highlander said.

School board member Rhonda Thurman said she thinks the optics of Kelly's closed-door meeting with Coleman aren't good.

"It seems like this guy is getting a leg up," she said.

Thurman is concerned candidates are going to be hesitant to apply for the job, assuming Kelly has an advantage.

"If I was somebody going to apply for this position I would think this is unfair," she said.

Members of the school board advocated for hiring Kelly for the permanent position in October, before the board ultimately decided to hire Coleman. In November, Kelly asked the board to continue with Coleman, saying he wants a transparent search to take place before he is selected.

Kelly said he hopes to provide Coleman with as much information as possible to help with the search during his meeting today.

"I just want to have a conversation with them and answer questions they may have," he said.

Kelly added that members of his staff are meeting at separate times with Coleman, and that he is not the only person from the central office meeting with them throughout the day.

In a meeting with reporters this morning, Kenneth Carrick Jr., president and managing director of Coleman, said its common for interims to apply for the permanent positions during a search.

"Ultimately the board decides how to handle [the situation,]" Carrick said. 

Coleman treats interim or internal candidates the same way they do outside candidates, with one exception, Carrick said. External candidates have to pass several hurdles before Coleman presents them to the board for consideration, but internal candidates will always be presented to the board, he added. 

"We will give the board our candid opinion about how [the internal candidate] stacks up against the external candidates, but as an outside party we don't think we should make the decision up or down on an internal candidate," Carrick said. 

Nearly 10 months have passed since Rick Smith resigned as superintendent of Hamilton County Schools after weathering months of turmoil. And last month was the first time the board talked with Coleman about the specifics of the search and what they want to see in the district's next leader.

The board is meeting publicly with Coleman today at 4 p.m. at the central office and has a work session scheduled to begin immediately afterward. 

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