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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Schools deputy superintendent Dr. Nakia Towns speaks to the media as Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke looks on at the Avondale Youth and Family Development Center on Thursday Sept. 24, 2020.

Incoming Hamilton County Schools interim superintendent Nakia Towns is ready to start the new school year filling in for departing Superintendent Bryan Johnson.

"I am so excited to be able to serve our teachers and our school leaders and our staff in this capacity. This work has been a partnership to build the culture that we've created, that Dr. Johnson has created over the last four years, and so I really am excited and happy to be able to continue that work with our teachers," Towns told the Times Free Press on Wednesday.

Towns said no other point in her career compares to the uncertainties of the past year and a half, and that she wanted to serve the school community as interim superintendent with consistency as students transition into the new school year.

"When you think through, there's going to be some children who haven't been in our school buildings physically since March of 2020, and so it was just imperative from my perspective that we keep the focus on children, and I think the best way to do that is to have stability in this transition, and I felt like I could serve to contribute to that," she said.

Going into the new year, she said, supporting students and meeting their needs is the school system's priority.

"We are really thinking about mental and behavioral health for our students. What we have gone through collectively as a community with this pandemic, there were really so much uncertainty and some frightening times when we went through all of the shutdowns and quarantining, etc., and so for children we want us to return to stability, some sense of normalcy."

Towns worked under Johnson beginning in 2017 as chief of staff and then as deputy superintendent. Following Johnson's resignation announcement, the Hamilton County Board of Education selected Towns as interim superintendent in a special meeting Monday. She received five votes to candidate Zac Brown's three votes, followed by a 6-2 vote confirming her position.

School board member Rhonda Thurman, who voted for Brown and against confirming Towns, told the board Monday that loyalty to Hamilton County factored into her decision for the position.

"Dr. Towns, I think she has applied for at least three, four superintendent jobs outside of Hamilton County in this past year or two, and that tells me that she doesn't really have any allegiance to Hamilton County, that if she had gotten a job, she would have been gone," Thurman said.

Towns applied for superintendent roles in Louisiana last year and in Florida this year. She said one of the district's five priorities — great teachers and great leaders — support professional and personal growth, and that other district leaders, including former Hamilton County Schools chief operations officer Ken Bradshaw, have moved onto positions in school systems in other states.

"Though we were sad to see him go, we were excited for his opportunity and that when we recruit people to our organization who are very talented people and build capacity, that there's going to be folks who get recruited for opportunities, and that's happened at the principalship and that's happened in central office leaders as we've had people who've gone to other opportunities," Towns said. "What we want is that for people while they're here, and I think this is universally true, to focus on the work at hand and to really support the children, as well as our staff around the bar of excellence that we set."

She said in her letter of interest to the board that she would not apply for the permanent superintendency because of "family and personal reasons," and told the Times Free Press she is comfortable with the board's policy not to consider interim candidates for the permanent role.

"When I think about what's ahead for me in the long term, I think about being the only child of aging parents who live out of state in Georgia, and I think about where I am going to be going in terms of my personal life trajectory," Towns said. "I have a godson who's 2 years old and is also out of state in Georgia, and so I really wanted to be able to make sure that I can spend time with them, with my family, and knowing that, I knew that it would be difficult to say that I could make a long-term commitment that the permanent position here would require of me."

Towns will start as interim superintendent on Aug. 18. Johnson took a position with logistics and trucking company U.S. Xpress.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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