Timothy Gadson III said he wants to lead the Hamilton County Schools system because he's prepared to address the challenges facing the district.
"At this point, it's time for me to be in the lead seat," Gadson said during his in-person interview with the Hamilton County Board of Education on Wednesday. He said the district needs his help to address more than $200 million in deferred maintenance, under-performing schools and the community's negative perception of the school system.
Gadson is the superintendent designee and executive director of curriculum and schools for Robbinsdale Area Schools, a district just outside of Minneapolis, about the quarter the size of Hamilton County Schools. Before that, he worked in districts in Atlanta, Texas and Florida.
Name: Timothy Gadson III
Job: Superintendent designee and executive director of curriculum and schools for Robbinsdale Area Schools
Highest level of education: Doctorate in higher education administration and curriculum and instruction from Washington State University, 1997
He was the third of five superintendent finalists to interview in-person for the district's top job this week, spending the day touring the district and meeting with central office staff. Each of the finalists also has time scheduled to spend with elected officials, education stakeholders and the community throughout the afternoon, ending the day with an hour-and-a-half interview with the school board.
If selected as superintendent, Gadson said, his performance in the first year can be judged by how successful he is at preventing the state from intervening in the district's five lowest-performing schools, and if he has a good relationship with the board and county commission.
"You can measure whether I've been visible in the schools," he added, " If I have had those town hall meetings with teachers and teachers feel communication is open and trusting. And if the community feels we have improved in our transparency and openness."
Throughout five hours of forums and interviews, Gadson was asked three times about whether he was involved in a cheating scandal in Atlanta Public Schools, as he was an associate superintendent in the district from 2014 to 2016.
Each time, Gadson said he arrived at the district after the major scandal had erupted and was tasked with helping the new leadership handle the aftermath.
"Those experiences help me know and understand that I can handle what is happening in Hamilton [County]," he said.
School board members did not ask him about a school he oversaw, Carver Technology High School, that in 2015 was caught in a grading controversy. The principal at Carver ordered employees to change certain students' grades so that they received 85's after a series of substitute teachers had not entered grades for them.
No allegations of wrongdoing were brought against Gadson. But, when an employee at Carver raised concerns about how the school's principal ordered employees to manipulate grades to Gadson, he defended the principal, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution and several other media outlets.
Gadson later disputed this and told investigators he did not authorize the principal's actions, the AJC also reported.
Asked about that incident by the Times Free Press after the board interview, Gadson said the principal had performance concerns about the employee who reported the problem, and the employee was being terminated before she reported the grade changing to him. He denied meeting with the employee about the situation.
"It was no intentional deception, [the principal] made a decision that she thought was in the best interest of the students, but it violated policy because you can't make an arbitrary decision," Gadson said. "That's why instead of being terminated, [the principal] was demoted."
Gadson said he did not mention the Carver incident during his public interview because no school board member or anyone else at the meeting asked him about it specifically.
Earlier this year, Gadson was named a finalist in the Birmingham City Schools superintendent search in Alabama, and the situation in Atlanta drew particular scrutiny. Gadson withdrew from the Birmingham search in April, citing the "political climate" of the search.
During the interview and forums Wednesday night, Gadson emphasized the importance of equity, saying schools serving students with greater needs should receive extra funding. But, he said, basic funding should never be taken away from some students and given to others.
"You can't get to equity until after you get to equal," he said.
Teachers at more complex and challenging schools also should be paid more than those at less demanding schools, he said, adding that incentivizing pay will attract teachers to the hard-to-staff schools.
The district also needs to do a better job of retaining teachers and not lose 300 a year, Gadson said. When the school system loses those teachers, it also loses the financial investment it has put into training them, he added.
Paying teachers more can help with retention, but he said what teachers really want is to work in a climate where they are valued and a part of the decision-making process.
Gadson told the board that preparing students for college and career starts the day they enter pre-K. He talked about his experience implementing a system that tracks whether students are meeting readiness standards before transitioning onto the next level starting in elementary school and continuing through graduation.
Hamilton County Commissioners Sabrena Smedley and Warren Mackey came Wednesday afternoon to talk with Gadson during the block of time set aside for elected officials.
Gadson also applied for Knox County Schools' superintendent search recently, but he was not named a finalist.
The board plans to vote on a permanent superintendent during its regular board meeting June 15. Five of its nine members need to agree on a finalist for the decision to be made.
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and
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.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated June 9 at 4:35 p.m. to clarify why candidate Timothy Gadson did not discuss a grading controversy at Carver Technology High School with school board members during his interview. Also, a sentence referring to his letter about the Birmingham school board that was released publicly by local media was removed.