By David Carroll

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Former Hamilton County Schools Supt. Dr. Jesse Register is one of three finalists for the top job in the Nashville Metro Public Schools.

Register, 61, served as Hamilton County's school chief from October 1996 until June 2006.  He was the first superintendent for a newly unified school system that was created when Chattanooga voters opted to end the city school system and merge with the county schools.

The result was a complicated, often chaotic district that included a new marriage of failing inner-city schools and largely white suburban and rural schools.  In his application for the Nashville job, Register touts his efforts to equalize opportunities for students and teachers in the diverse Hamilton County district.

While his ten-year tenure is generally regarded as successful in boosting academics and enlisting community and foundation support, critics say he fell short in effectively communicating his vision and goals to the public.  He also faced harsh criticism for a negotiated $150,000, one-year "consulting contract" after his fulltime employment ended.

In his Nashville application, he writes of his departure from Hamilton County, "It was the right time for transition after ten years.  I proposed an exit strategy that was accepted."

Register had solid support from the majority of School Board members over the years, with the notable exceptions of District One representatives Bill Eldridge and Rhonda Thurman, who clashed with Register on open enrollment zoning and his frequent budget increase requests.

He also experienced difficulties in dealing with the Hamilton County Commission.  Many commissioners scolded Register during budget hearings for what they said were extravagant financial requests.  During the later years of his tenure, Register had little communication with the Commission and the County Mayor, and handed off the annual budget request to School Board members or his financial director, often personally declining to address the Commission.

However, he parlayed the district's academic success during his administration into some high profile jobs in recent years.  He stated in his Nashville application letter that he makes $104,000 annually as Senior Advisor for the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, an estimated $50,000 as a consultant, and another $40,000 as a part-time Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he teaches leadership classes.  He revealed his "current gross income" as $215,000.  The Nashville superintendent's position is believed to pay between $200,000 and $250,000 annually.  Current Hamilton County superintendent Dr. Jim Scales, who succeeded Register in 2006, makes $200,270 per year.

In his application for the Nashville job, he says he is pleased with the direction his career has taken since leaving Hamilton County (he now makes his home in Sequatchie County).  But he says he is interested in the Nashville position because the district faces some difficult challenges that he has tackled before, and believes he can improve the Nashville school district.

Pedro Garcia left the Nashville schools director position in January, and the position has been vacant since that time.

The Nashville district is currently in "corrective action" status by the Tennessee Department of Education, and is facing an estimated $11 million shortfall.  Nashville Mayor Karl Dean could take over the school system if test scores do not improve by next fall.  This situation has reportedly discouraged some educators from applying for the Nashville job.  Register is one of three finalists who will be interviewed by the Board on Saturday, along with Doris McEwen, a professor of P-12 education at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Santiago Wood is an independent educational consultant for Santillana USA Publishing and other companies.

Bill Attea, who headed the superintendent search for Hamilton County in 2006, is conducting the Nashville search as well.


By David Carroll