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UPDATE: Hamilton Co. school board chooses superintendent search firm

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Hamilton County School board members voted 5-4 to spend $60,000 on a search firm based out of Charlotte North Carolina. 

Coleman Lew and Associates was the most expensive out of the 3 firms that were in the running and while some school board members say it's a good investment, others aren't so sure 

"I think we get so concerned with the search process and we have to have somebody new that we are not looking at what is going on right now," said board member Kathy Lennon, District 2.

Kathy Lennon surprised fellow board members at Thursday night's meeting with a motion to hire interim superintendent Kirk Kelly for the job. 
 
"That came from my heart," said Lennon.  

But the motion couldn't advance without a 15 day notice to the public.  Still she and others think the $60,000  being spent for a nationwide search is a bit much. 

"I really do think it could be better spent," said board member David Testerman, District 8. 

Board member, David Testerman believes the next superintendent should be someone local, who knows the problems and is committed to solving them. 

"I think Kirk Kelly has a good touch on the pulse of our school system right now, my goodness he and his top staff have been into every school in our county twice already," said Testerman. 

Rhonda Thurman disagrees, she wants the school system to hire a leader with a fresh perspective.
 "Someone to come in and move people around where they need to be," said Thurman. "You know there are a lot of people in central office that I really like and I hope that the new person that comes in won't get rid of them but there are a lot of people that I feel need to go, that have not done their job. Right now a lot of people at central office want to keep Dr Kelly because it's job security for them and I can't worry about an education system becoming an employment opportunity for people.  

This is the 3rd time the Hamilton County School Board has used a superintendent search firm since 1997. The first superintendent was Jesse Register, who served from 1997 to 2006.  The second was Jim Scales who served from 2006 to 2011. Board members say Dr. Kelly with remain a candidate and he might even still be elected when its all said and done. 
 
"I am bewildered about it," said Testerman. 

One thing they can all agree on is the challenges are great.. 

"Nobody's beating down our door for the job okay and it's been advertised around this country," said Testerman. "There are newsletters out there,  it's out there and I don't have anybody beating our door down.... it's a very tough job."

Coleman Lew and Associates has been in business since 1979, they say their search process is a disciplined and thorough one. They say a majority of their education candidates remain employed for at least 5 years on the job. Board members who voted for the firm say they did so because it was the best and their recruiters think outside of the box. The board will meet with the search firm in November. 


After more than a month of discussions, the Hamilton County School Board finally selected a superintendent search firm Thursday night.

The board voted 5-4 to spend at least $60,000 on Coleman Lew & Associates, a firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Coleman was the most expensive of the three firms, but some board members believe the firm thinks outside the box and can find the best people for the job.

A crowd of parents forced standing room only at the board meeting. Parents, teachers and students watched as the board voted for a superintendent search firm.

"We are spending a little more money, but we are investing in the leader of 43,000 children and 6,000 employees," said Dr. Steve Highlander, School Board Chair.  

Outside, parents and students were holding signs showing they want their voices heard.

"It's really important to definitely have a say-so, if we want a business person or if we want a teacher," said parent Miranda Perez.

Most board members emphasize the need for community involvement. Parents like Perez said it's a must.

"Having these community meetings and community involvement will help give our school board some direction on how to vote for our district," she said.

"Whenever we're able to hear the voice of the community, we're able to have some more transparency," said Marcellus Barnes, who has three children in Hamilton County Schools.

Barnes wants to make sure they get a quality education.

"I don't have the finances to put my kid in a private school," he said. "With public schools, it shouldn't really be a comparison."

That's why Barnes wants a say in the new superintendent search.

"Whomever he or she is, I hope they have a heart for the entire community, and not just one area," he said.

The search firm will look nationwide for a pool of potential candidates, but the board may not have to search farther than its current interim superintendent, Dr. Kirk Kelly.

"Dr. Kelly is definitely still a potential candidate," Highlander said.

The board will have its first meeting with the search firm in December with plans to develop a comprehensive plan to involve the community.



UPDATE: The Hamilton County Department of Education chose a firm to lead its search for the next superintendent Thursday night.

In a 5-4 vote, school board members chose to hire Coleman Lew & Associates.

The Charlotte-based search firm was one of three choices, with the highest price tag of $60,000 plus expenses.

READ MORE | UPDATE: Hamilton Co. school board elects new leadership; superintendent search begins

Channel 3 will have more on this story tonight on Eyewitness News at 11. 


PREVIOUS STORY: The search is on for a new superintendent in Hamilton County. The school board is still working to pick a search firm to help them find the right candidate.

Board members are looking for a leader who is a change agent -- someone who can address the needs of individual schools and fix the problem with K-3 literacy district-wide.

"We have to find the very best person we can for the good of our children," said Dr. Steve Highlander, School Board Chairman. "We have 43,000 kids who deserve an outstanding leader, and that's what we want to find."

Finding that right person won't be an easy job, but it's one the Hamilton County School Board is taking seriously.

On Tuesday, board members discussed what they want to see in a new superintendent during a two-and-a-half hour work session.

"Nine individuals have nine different ideas. We wanted to work together," Highlander said. 

The board narrowed down a list of qualities and issues they want a new superintendent to tackle.

They want a visionary who will support leadership from the top down. Someone who can build relationships with the community, improve academic progress and better school facilities.

"I think we sort of got our minds together, and we worked a little bit more in unison. We still are not sure who we want for a search firm," said Highlander.

The board will make a final vote on a search firm Thursday. But before anyone can apply for the job, they want the community's input.

"I want to know what my constituents want, and I encourage communities all over the county to do that," Highlander said.

A community forum will be held on November 7th at Wallace Smith Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. Teachers and parents will be invited to voice their ideas on what they want in a new superintendent.

Stay with WRCBtv.com for updates to this story.

School Patrol

David Carroll covers education news and issues at schools across the Tennessee Valley.

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