The Hamilton County Board of Education interviewed another batch of candidates Monday as it works to find the district a permanent superintendent.
The board questioned Arthur Wayne Johnson, Clifford Davis and Bryan Johnson in separate videoconference interviews Monday night. The board will interview the remaining three candidates, including Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly, next week.
Once the board concludes interviews, it plans to invite five candidates for in-person interviews at the beginning of June, and tentatively plans to vote June 15 on who will fill the post.
The first interview was with Wayne Johnson, a businessman based in Georgia who earned his doctorate in education leadership last year. Wayne Johnson's resume includes several businesses he founded, and work he's done in the banking and credit card industry.
Fast facts on the candidates
Name: 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
Name: Clifford Davis
Job: Chief of staff at Knox County Schools
Highest level of education: Doctorate in educational administration and supervision from the University of Tennessee, 2006
Name: Bryan Johnson
Job: Chief academic officer for Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
Highest level of education: Doctorate in educational leadership and professional practice from Trevecca Nazarene University, 2010
Jack Elsey Jr., 5 p.m.
Kirk Kelly, 6 p.m.
Timothy Gadson III, 7 p.m.
All meetings will be held in the superintendent’s conference room at the Hamilton County Department of Education.
Johnson said he's been successful in his career and isn't looking for a contract, but a job where he can improve the lives of others, and he hopes that is by working in public education.
"The most important challenge right now is to bring stability to the system," he said.
If picked for the job, Wayne Johnson said his business experience would be an asset. And he emphasized the need for the district to address the long list of deferred maintenance and to analyze the entire budget.
The most important people in a school district are students, parents and teachers, he said, and the board and the district staff are responsible for supporting them.
Acknowledging his lack of experience in education leadership, Wayne Johnson said he's good at finding talent, and his first priority would be surrounding himself with people that have strengths complementing his own.
Clifford Davis Jr., chief of staff for Knox County Schools, has been at that district since 1995. He did not apply for the superintendent position in Knox's search, which ended this year.
Davis has been chief of staff since 2015, and before that worked as the executive director of secondary education, supervisor of secondary education and as a principal at several schools. Knox County Schools is slightly larger than Hamilton County Schools and consistently outperforms it on the state's standardized assessment.
In his job, Davis said he's had the opportunity to wrestle with issues in public education including accountability, scarce resources, underperforming schools and politics.
He said he wants to ensure that every school has quality principals and teachers, and that his focus is on giving teachers the resources they need to be successful.
"Programs don't move students forward, it's teachers," Davis said.
As a superintendent, he said, the most important thing he can do is ensure that a top principal is at every school.
"It would be my job to hold the principals accountable and then have the principals hold the teachers accountable," Davis said.
He noted that the best teachers and strongest leaders need to be working in the district's lowest-performing schools.
Bryan Johnson, the last candidate interviewed, has been the chief academic officer at Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools since 2015. Before being promoted to that position, Johnson served as the director of high schools and as a principal in the district.
He is also a finalist in the Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools superintendent search and interviewed with that school board earlier this month.
If named to the post, Bryan Johnson said, his priorities would be student achievement, funding/budgeting and the district's culture. The most important ingredients in education are teachers, leaders and the community, he added.
"Ultimately, when you get those three things right, students benefit," he said. "And they're at the core of what you do."
Bryan Johnson said if chosen for the job, he'd have a laser focus on the budget, adding that this year he cut several things out of his budget that did not provide results. The district also realized it wasn't using all textbooks and cut that budget item in half and used the remaining money to buy technology for students.
He also noted that Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools students that are learning English have led the state in academic growth, and he said that he would work to get the same results here.
Last week, the school board interviewed Stuart Greenberg and Natasha Baker.
After the interviews Monday night, the board spent about 30 minutes arguing about the process moving forward and how it wants to determine the finalists and conduct the final round of interviews.
School board member Karitsa Mosley Jones said the search process has been sloppy so far, and she suggested the board have a more structured in-person interview process and ask all candidates the same questions.
"I'm just telling you this looks like a mess," she said.
School board member Joe Wingate defended the process, and said he is tired of hearing about parts of the search being hidden or that the public doesn't know how things are being decided.
In April, the search firm Coleman Lew and Associates gave the school board 14 candidates to consider for the permanent position. By email, each board member sent Chairman Steve Highlander a list of the 10 candidates they wanted to interview. And then Highlander, the board secretary and a representative from the search firm tabulated the results in private and days later announced the nine candidates the board would interview. One of those candidates dropped out before the interviews.
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.
The board plans to meet in the days after the final round of interviews Monday to determine which candidates it will invite for the in-person interviews.
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.