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School Board approves TSBA’s list of candidates for next superintendent

By Bill Short
The Millington School Board has approved a list of five candidates it will interview for potential employment as the school system’s next superintendent.
Board members took the action Monday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Chris Denson and seconded by Mark Coulter.
The motion was passed by a 5-2 vote, with Chairman C. J. Haley and Larry Jackson dissenting.
Dr. David Roper, superintendent of Millington Municipal Schools, has announced that he intends to retire on Aug. 1.
During an April 19 special called meeting, the board voted unanimously to ask the Tennessee School Boards Association to assist in the superintendent search.
Randall Bennett, the TSBA’s deputy executive director and general counsel, presented the following candidates’ names Monday night in the order that they submitted their applications:
(1) James E. Griffin, principal of Bolton High School
(2) Dr. Donald C. Durley, principal of Millington Central High School
(3) Chad H. Stevens, former principal of Bolton High School
(4) Mark E. Neal, principal of Melrose High School
(5) Selina T. Sparkman, principal of Millington Middle School
Bennett called this the “most whirlwind” superintendent search he has ever conducted in a short period of time. He said the TSBA’s committees discussed the candidates and talked with “a lot of people we know in this area” about them.
“We think we’ve come up with some good suggestions for you,” he noted, “as far as the ones to interview first or to consider interviewing.”
Bennett cited a “sample interview guide” containing questions based on criteria that the board asked the TSBA to include in a brochure it published and distributed for the school district.
“It’s a lot easier to take suggested questions and come up with a final interview guide than to try to do it all from scratch,” he noted. “And we wanted to key it in to the kind of things that you listed as your criteria.”
Bennett said that, under the Tennessee Open Meetings Law, it is “appropriate” for the entire board to interview the candidates. So, the same questions should be asked in the same order by the same board member.
“If you do that,” he said, “we think you treat everyone pretty much exactly the same. And I think, to get consistent comparisons, that’s really the only way to do it.”
Bennett acknowledged that, when all the interviews are completed, the board members will “forget who said what.”
“Take really good notes and put all your perceptions down,” he said. “So, when you go back to review, you’re ready to discuss it with the full board and make a final decision.”
Bennett also recommended that the members individually list their “top candidates in order.” So, when they get together to “narrow it down,” they can see if those candidates are “rising to the top automatically.”
He said that, after at least four members have voted to employ someone, it would be “nice” if the board had a “courtesy vote” to “unanimously proclaim” its support for the new superintendent.
“I think that speaks very highly of the process,” he noted. “And I think most potential candidates find that useful.”
Bennett said the board members have “all the files” that the TSBA collected in connection with this search. But because it is their “prerogative” to add or “switch out” other individuals, he suggested that they do so.
“I did call all of these candidates and let them know that we were going to be recommending them to you,” he said. “There were letters sent out to some people we were not recommending. So, they all knew in advance.”
Bennett also said he informed the five candidates that the board is planning to conduct interviews during the week of June 18-22.
“I told them that, when you got that schedule nailed down,” he said, “somebody from the Central Office here would be in touch with them to set that up.”
Jackson said he was “encouraged” by the number of “far and wide” applicants who had a lot of good credentials.
Board member Cody Childress said he is “really pleased” and “excited” about the number of local candidates. He called this “a far cry” from four and a half years ago, when the original board members were “really overwhelmed” by the search process.
“We made a great choice,” he concluded, referring to Roper, “and that’s why we’re where we are today.”

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