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Alderman approve contract to employ Qualls to help school board search for superintendent

By Bill ShortFlag City Logo

The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously this week to hire Dr. Wayne Qualls to help the school board search for a superintendent.
Board members took the action Monday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Thomas McGhee and seconded by Alderman Bethany Huffman.
Qualls, owner of the TEAMS Inc. educational consulting firm, had a question-and-answer session with the Millington School Transition Committee on Oct. 30 and got “some guidance” from the school board candidates, who were also invited to the meeting.
Alderman Mike Caruthers, the committee’s chairman, has described Qualls as a “heavy hitter” in the educational field.
“I think we’re all real comfortable with him,” he said. “He’s got impeccable credentials.”
Prior to starting his consulting firm, Qualls served as principal of Centerville Elementary School, superintendent of the Hickman County School System, Tennessee assistant commissioner as well as commissioner of education and executive vice chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents.
While acknowledging that the five other suburban municipalities in Shelby County are using the Tennessee School Board Association to assist in their superintendent searches, Caruthers noted that Qualls will not be “competing” with them.
He will determine the characteristics and qualifications that the school board expects of a superintendent. Next, he will recruit, screen and do background checks on each applicant, recommend several “semi-finalists,” schedule each for interviews with the board, then prepare the questions and format for the finalists’ interviews.
Although Qualls’ fee is $6,000, half will be paid initially. The balance will be due at the conclusion of the process, if the board is “satisfied.”
“I think we’re privileged that he would come to Millington to do this,” Caruthers said. “And the price that we’re paying him is very reasonable. So, I think we’re getting a good deal.”
Caruthers also noted that the school board members chosen in today’s election will conduct a Public Forum at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Harvell Civic Center Auditorium. He said Qualls will be there to receive “input” regarding the superintendent search from the residents, as well as the teachers, principals and administrators of Millington’s schools.
“So, try to be there to get a chance to meet him,” Caruthers told the audience. “And be ready to give us some thoughts on what you’re looking for to direct the first school system in Millington.”
At the committee’s Oct. 30 meeting, Qualls said the residents need to know that the process of selecting a superintendent will be “transparent,” and that the school board will be responsible for it.
“Being a school board member is one of the most responsible jobs in Tennessee,” he noted. “There’s not a more difficult job in Tennessee, but there’s not a more rewarding job.”
Although he gets paid for his services, Qualls said it is “not about money” to him. Finding “the right people” to do the right kinds of jobs in school systems is something that is “dear” to his heart.
Noting that advertisement is the “least important mechanism” he uses, Qualls said he will try to recruit someone who is “successful and happy” in his or her role.
“In every case that I’ve done a search,” he recalled, “the boards have told me, ‘We don’t want to know who’s applied. We want the top three or four, and you bring those to us. If we’re not happy with any of those, you can go back to the well.’”
Qualls said he likes to interview school board members individually to see what they are each looking for in a superintendent. That enables him to prepare a “profile” in his mind of what the board “collectively” is seeking.
He also said the projected size of Millington’s school system, with 2,000 to 3,000 students, is “perfect,” because it will not be “overburdened” with spending money on administration.
“You need to spend your money that helps the kids involved,” he noted. “That should be the goal of a school system and a school board member.”
Qualls said the school board will have to decide whether it wants to look locally, regionally, statewide, nationally or all four.
“If you do locally, regionally and statewide,” he said, “it’s satisfactory to advertise on the state Web site and on the state superintendent organization’s Web site. That’s where everybody who’s anybody in Tennessee is going to go.”
In response to a question by Position 2 candidate Oscar Brown, Qualls said he will be with the board from the beginning to the end of the process. He will answer any questions that the members have and develop a “scoring instrument” for applicant interviews.
“You will agree beforehand on the number of people you’re going to interview and the number you’re going to bring back for a final interview,” he noted. “The top two scores automatically qualify.”
In response to a question by Position 7 candidate Don Holsinger, Qualls said he believes he can have a “viable” list of applicants by Dec. 1, when the results of the school board election will be certified.
When the board has a “pool of applicants” that will be interviewed, Qualls said, it should have some kind of “reception situation” where the members meet all of them at one time on an “informal basis.” Then, he will schedule each of them for a 60-minute interview, with a 15-minute break in between.
Brown noted that applicants with a lot of experience frequently expect a “big-ticket” salary. Qualls said he always quotes a salary range while he is interviewing them and asks if they are comfortable with that.
In response to a question by committee member Ron Williams, Qualls said a $110,000 salary is “competitive” with other school districts of similar size. But he recommended that the board set a range of $100,000 to $120,000.
When committee member Bruce Rasmussen noted that the board will have to pay for the applicants to travel here to be interviewed, Caruthers said that will come out of the “city tax money.”
Qualls said he has conducted searches where there were no expenses paid. But, at a minimum, he said the board should offer to pay the “finalists” mileage and one night’s lodging.
He noted that the “single most important trait” that the board should look for in a superintendent is not knowledge about education, but “personality.”
He acknowledged that the board can hire the “smartest and wisest” applicant. But without the ability to communicate with the board members, and to talk “with” the teachers and principals instead of talking “down” to them, he said that person will be unsuccessful.

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