Bibb school superintendent offers to stay through end of year

jmink@macon.comMay 31, 2014 

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School Superintendent Steve Smith faces questions in a news conference at the school board office in March.

WOODY MARSHALL — wmarshall@macon.com Buy Photo

Interim Bibb County school Superintendent Steve Smith says he is willing to stay in his role up to seven more months, as the school board abandons its former search for a school system leader and launches a new one.

After reviewing 23 superintendent applications in April and May, the board decided to relaunch its search in order to tweak the candidate qualifications and cast a wider net.

The latest application process is not yet open, but the school board should soon begin discussing the details of the new search, hopefully as early as next week, said board member Lynn Farmer, who leads the search committee. When they initially decided to relaunch the search, board members indicated the system would begin accepting applications immediately.

“We’re taking time to do our jobs, and we aren’t going to hire anybody in a hurry,” Farmer said. “We want to make absolutely sure that we’re getting the best person. This isn’t about quick. It’s about quality.”

In the meantime, Smith’s contract is set to expire June 30, but he told The Telegraph he has offered to extend his time here. Smith said he would not be willing to stay beyond Dec. 31 and hopes a new superintendent is chosen by October.

The school board has not made an official decision regarding the interim superintendent role, including keeping Smith on the payroll past the end of the month.

Smith and several board members said they prefer the new superintendent to transition into the role with Smith’s help.

“I would like to hand the baton off to my successor and have the opportunity to assist him or her with the transition into the job,” Smith said. “I’m very concerned about continuity and someone coming in who can pick up where I left off and take it to a higher level.”

‘I don’t want to rush the process’

The Bibb County school system has been without a permanent superintendent since February 2013 when the board bought out former Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s contract.

Board member Tom Hudson said he thinks the school board should have started its search -- and chosen a permanent superintendent -- earlier.

“We should have started the superintendent search as soon as we hired Steve (Smith) as the interim superintendent,” Hudson said. “There was a window of opportunity that we did not take advantage of.”

After Dallemand’s departure, former Deputy Superintendent Suzanne Griffin-Ziebart served as acting superintendent -- a job that originally was supposed to last just 30 days but wound up spanning three months.

A year ago, in June 2013, Smith -- a retired superintendent in Lowndes and Pulaski counties who is a former Central High School principal -- was sworn in as interim superintendent.

The school board partnered with the Georgia School Boards Association to help lead the superintendent search. In January, the board set the qualifications it wanted the new superintendent to have, and received 23 applications this spring.

Some of those candidates withdrew their applications, some accepting jobs elsewhere, board members said. The school board decided to reopen the application process to bring in more candidates. Any former applicants will need to reapply, board members said.

Additionally, some board members said the required qualifications needed revisions.

One issue, some board members said, was some of those initial qualifications were too stringent. For example, the school board specified the new leader should have experience being a superintendent. That restricted the application pool, but some board members said they thought it was not fair to consider quality applicants who didn’t meet that qualification. The school board has not yet determined any new qualifications for the superintendent search.

Board member Lester Miller said he supported relaunching the superintendent search, mainly because he opposed the required superintendent experience. Several educators who may have administrative experience but not necessarily superintendent experience could be excellent superintendents, Miller said.

“I want to get as many quality candidates as we can, and I don’t want to rush the process,” he said.

‘It was a good time to take a step back’

Other board members said the board received quality candidates the first time around, but the board wanted to take its time to find as many candidates as possible.

“I want to make sure we cast a wide net, that we have a great number of candidates,” board member Jason Downey said. As the school year ended and some previous candidates dropped out of the process, “it was a good time to take a step back and relaunch.”

Downey said he prefers the next superintendent come from Georgia or at least the Southeast. He said he doesn’t think superintendent experience should be required, but he prefers that candidates have a doctorate degree. He also wants the new superintendent to spend time with Smith.

“I would like someone to be brought in, who can work with him, if only for a month,” Downey said, “to see what’s going on and be brought up to speed.”

Hudson said he wants a superintendent who will partner with the community, who will form a good relationship with the school board and who has experience closing achievement gaps. The need for such leadership especially was evident during this year’s graduation ceremonies, he said.

“In some cases, half of the students who started out with the class of 2014 ... didn’t make it,” Hudson said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Board member Wanda West echoed other board members, saying she thinks it’s important not to rush the process. While the board has not specified a time frame for choosing the system’s next leader, this summer through December should be a good “shopping time” for candidates, she said. The board recently has held work sessions in an effort to set district goals before hiring the next leader.

“I’m excited that we are setting goals, and I’m excited that we are taking our time in making sure we are doing the best job we can do,” West said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.

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