This story was updated to reflect that Amy Katcher, communications coordinator for Hamilton County Schools, said she was acting on behalf of school board secretary Sherrie Ford when she said media outlets could not attend the meeting.
Arthur Wayne Johnson said he's the most qualified candidate to lead Hamilton County Schools because his background is not in education.
"I bring skills that most people that have a career in education don't have," he said during his in-person interview Monday night.
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.
Johnson is the first of the five superintendent finalists scheduled to spend the day in Hamilton County, with the remaining four candidates, including Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly, to each interview on different days this week. During the daylong interview, the candidates are to meet with central office staff and tour Hardy Elementary, which is currently hosting a summer program for kids. The candidates will also have time set aside to spend with elected officials, education stakeholders and the community throughout the afternoon.
The day concludes with an hour-and-a-half interview with the school board.
Fast facts about Arthur Wayne Johnson
Job: Founder and chairman of First Performance Corporation, CEO at Reunion Financial Services Corporation, and managing partner at Global Education Partners
Highest level of education: Doctorate in education leadership from Mercer University, 2016
Tuesday: Stuart Greenberg
Wednesday: Timothy Gadson
Thursday: Bryan Johnson
Friday: Kirk Kelly
The candidates will be available to meet with the community between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. each day at central office, located at 3074 Hickory Valley Road. Following the community meeting the board will publicly interview the candidates.
In several of the meetings, Johnson talked about his background in business and organizational management, and he admitted he'd need to hire or work with people who have a background in curriculum and instruction to compensate for what he lacks in experience. But his strengths would be maneuvering local politics and overseeing the district's more than $400 million budget, he said.
When asked questions about things like equity, socioeconomic diversity and special education, Johnson said he did not have answers and talked vaguely on the subjects.
Johnson did voice concerns about the state's proposal to launch a partnership district with Hamilton County Schools as a way of turning around the district's five lowest-performing schools, known as priority or iZone schools.
For more than a decade, four of these five schools have ranked in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide, and despite more than $10 million in additional funding in the past four years, the schools have posted little, if any, academic gains.
The state said the schools must improve for students and told the school board last month that it had two options: work with the state in a partnership district or allow the state to place at least some of the five schools in the state-run Achievement School District.
Johnson said there is little debate about the changes that need to be made in the schools, saying teachers and principals need additional training, and the question is just: "who is going to do it?"
The more local input and control the better the outcomes will be, Johnson said, arguing that the district should lead the turnaround work. He said the board and county need to tell the state it has a new board and leader and is ready to start working to improve the schools immediately.
"As the superintendent, I'll be front and center. I'll be the lightning rod, I'll be the person that everybody wants to hate that wanted to go the different direction," Johnson said.
If named superintendent, he plans to tell the governor and education commissioner that the district has a new plan it will execute for those schools and that it will not give up control.
"Quite frankly, the upside of us doing it and it working is high," Johnson said. "And the downside is we do it and it doesn't work, we aren't any worse off than we are today."
During last year's school board election, current school board members Rhonda Thurman, Tiffanie Robinson, Joe Wingate and Kathy Lennon each said they were interested in hiring some from outside and the district and a non-traditional candidate with a background in business for the superintendent post.
Thurman, Robinson and Wingate have continued to make comments supporting this belief. But Lennon has since changed her stance and supported Kelly for the job, advocating that the board hire him last fall. School board members Joe Galloway and David Testerman have also voiced strong support for the work Kelly is doing.
Elected officials that came to meet with the candidate:
County Commissioner Greg Martin, Hixson
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah
If hired, Johnson reiterated to the board Monday night what he said during his video conference interview last month, that if named superintendent, he would not need a contract and would never want a buyout, because he would not be taking the job for the money.
"To me, if I'm doing the job, you'll want to keep me. And if I'm not doing the job, you'll want me to leave," he said. "And there should be no drama associated with that."
Before the interview with the board, elected officials had the opportunity to meet with Johnson, but Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Martin and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, were the only people to attend.
Amy Katcher, communications coordinator for Hamilton County Schools, attempted to keep media representatives out of the meeting, but eventually allowed them inside.
Katcher said Tuesday she was acting on behalf of school board secretary Sherrie Ford. Katcher added that in her role as communications coordinator, she only works for the school district, not the school board.
Once media was allowed in the room with elected officials Monday, Ford, moved the chairs where Carter, Martin and Johnson were talking away from where the media was told to sit, making it difficult for them to hear what was being said.
After a series of complaints, including from Carter, school officials allowed members of the media to sit near the education stakeholders during the second meeting.
During this meeting, about a dozen representatives from the principals association, teachers union, UnifiEd, Chattanooga 2.0 and a special education advocacy group asked Johnson a series of questions. Following that, about 40 people from the community filled chairs in the board room and also asked questions.
The media was prevented from questioning Johnson throughout the day.
The board plans to vote on a permanent superintendent during its regular board meeting June 15, needing five of its nine members to agree on a finalist for the decision to be finalized.
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.relatedarticlethumbrelatedarticlethumb