By Bill Short
The Millington School Board voted last week to offer the city’s first superintendent position to Dr. David Roper of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
Board members took the action Friday night during a special called meeting in the Board Chamber at City Hall.
Roper was one of three finalists for the position who were invited to return last week for second interviews. The initial interviews of six semifinalists were conducted on Dec. 10 and 11.
The other finalists were Ronnie Mackin, former regional superintendent of the Achievement School District, and Scott Porter, superintendent of the Bluford, Ill., School System.
The board began its special meeting shortly after it concluded the finalists’ interviews at a work session.
During the roll call for the selection, Roper was the choice of members Cecilia “C. J.” Haley, Don Holsinger, Chuck Hurt Jr. and Louise Kennon. Mackin received the votes of Jennifer Carroll, Cody Childress and Board Chairman Greg Ritter.
The chairman said Roper will receive a “conditional” job offer that is “contingent” upon the board’s ability to prepare a contract. He noted that board attorney Steve Shields said that would be the “next step” when an applicant was selected.
Roper spent 21 years in the Birmingham, Ala., School System, advancing from a school psychologist to the superintendent’s executive assistant.
After obtaining a doctorate in education administration from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, he served a total of eight years as the superintendent in the Roanoke, Ala., and Elizabethton, Tenn., school systems.
Roper has also been the director of assessment in the Tennessee Department of Education’s Division of Special Education and executive director of the Guilford County, N.C., School System’s Office of Innovative Services.
He is currently in his fourth year as a master clinician at MTSU, where he trains teacher candidates.
During his interview Friday night, Roper said he would be returning to his “family roots” by coming to Millington. Because his parents were born and raised in Covington, he said he has “great memories” of this area.
“I still have extended family that lives in the area,” he noted. “There are good people here. If given the opportunity, I would be coming here to make Millington my home.”
Asked by Hurt for his opinion of open enrollment, Roper said Tennessee law allows a board of education to establish guidelines for the enrollment of students who do not live within the school district. He also said the board can set a timetable and a “cutoff date” for accepting applications.
Roper called it “a good thing” when residents living outside the district want their children to attend schools within it.
“You want people who want to be a part of good things that are going on,” he acknowledged. “You set up parameters and a mechanism to allow that to happen, so you can do it on a consistent basis, and you don’t get accused of playing personal favorites.”
Until two weeks before the start of the school year, Roper said, a student can come from the “sending district” without its actual approval. But after that, the approval of both the sending and receiving district is required.
“You just have to plan ahead and make sure you’ve organized a structure to allow that to happen,” he said. “As long as you do that without any kind of discriminatory approach and follow your policies and guidelines, it enhances the school district in a lot of ways.”
When Haley asked how he would work with the school principals, Roper said he would first want to know what they think is going well in their schools and what needs improvement. And because each school has its own “merits,” he would not view all of them in the same way.
He would also want to know how the principals will lead their schools from an “instructional” standpoint.
“I tell them that I’m not going to be looking over their shoulder every step of the way,” he noted. “I will step back and let them run their schools. But we’re going to work very closely.”
Because Roper’s experience is almost exclusively administrative, Holsinger and Carroll asked how he could really understand the challenges that teachers and principals face.
After four years of working with teacher candidates and the surrounding school districts, Roper said he is “keenly aware” of the challenges that prospective as well as existing teachers face. And as a superintendent in two city school districts, he worked directly with principals every day.
“After you’re in public education for as many years as I have been, it’s one thing to say that you understand the position of a classroom teacher or a principal,” he noted. “It’s another thing to say that you can manage, organize and facilitate the good performance of teachers and principals in a way that is efficient and effective.”
Asked by Childress how he handles a “disgruntled” parent, Roper said he tries to remember when he had conferences with teachers, principals or superintendents about his own son or daughter.
Because parents love their children more than anyone else, he said it is their “job” to be there as an advocate for them.
Even if a disgruntled parent is behaving in a way that does not “thrill” him, Roper said he has learned to be “measured” in his response. But he acknowledged that parents cannot always be given everything they are seeking.
“The real world doesn’t operate that way,” he noted. “But sometimes, we can meet in the middle. In the end, the main thing is the welfare of those boys and girls and trying to get the best possible situation.”
Kennon asked how the board will be able to send the state a report on the total student enrollment in the school system by March 2014 if it does not have the numbers until after June. Roper said it will have to make some assumptions in the “start-up mode.”
He noted that the board knows who is currently enrolled and how many of them live inside the city limits. And unless it is told “specifically otherwise,” its assumption would be that they will continue as a part of what constitutes the system’s Average Daily Membership.
Then, he said the board would want to quickly establish a mechanism for those living outside the city limits who would like to attend Millington’s schools.
“You can’t guarantee it down to the person at this point,” he acknowledged. “But you can make some pretty good decisions, based on a logical approach to transitioning from what you have now to what you’re going to be having.”
Ritter asked how soon Roper could be in Millington to get the school system “moving” if he were offered the superintendent position. Roper said officials at a university as large as MTSU understand that opportunities present themselves from time to time.
“If need be, I could give a two-week notice,” he said. “So, we’re talking about in early January to get going.”
“We’re limited to a four-year contract,” Ritter noted. “Do you see yourself fulfilling that and potentially moving into a renewal?”
“Absolutely,” Roper replied, “without hesitation.”