UPDATE: David Lewis named as finalist for Muscogee County superintendent

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 8, 2013 

The Muscogee County School District administration building is at 2960 Macon Road.

MIKE HASKEY — mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

Breaking:The Muscogee County School Board voted Tuesday to name Polk County's David Lewis, 56, as the finalist for the county's superintendent.

Lewis was recently a finalist for superintendent in Polk County, Fla., where he has worked for the past 32 years. He was serving as the associate superintendent of learning for that district. Polk County made its superintendent selection near the end of May.

Click here to read Lewis' 32-page application for Polk County's position

Lewis said Tuesday he was looking for "the job, not a job." He said he applied for the job the second week of June and visited the area without the school board's knowledge before his interview, which was June 21 in Atlanta.

He cites budget and student achievement gaps among Muscogee County's challenges, and he said his experience with this school board has been "nothing but positive."

"I want them to know that I'm a very dedicated professional educator," he said. "I'm very transparent."

Lewis said he's had preliminary salary discussions, but "nothing final."

According to Polk County School District's website, "the district is the eighth largest in Florida. Polk has 163 school sites and centers including 66 elementary, 4 elementary/middle, 7 elementary/middle/high, 18 middle, 3 middle/high, 18 high, 2 technical career centers, 2 adult, 11 alternative education, 24 charters, 5 Department of Juvenile Justice sites, and 3 off-campus Head Start sites. More than 94,000 students are enrolled, with a diverse student body. The district is the largest employer in Polk County with over 13,000 employees. More than half of those are employed as teachers."

In Polk County students wear uniforms from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Lewis, who calls himself a "recovering high school band director," said he hasn't applied for other jobs outside of his home district. He'll be in town through late Thursday morning.

He and his wife, Karen, who has been a music educator for 32 years, have three children: Monica (29), David (24) and Stephanie (17).

His son is a marketing director in China, and Stephanie, who just graduated from high school, is planning to attend Jacksonville State (Ala.) University on a softball scholarship.

State law requires the board to identify a finalist 14 days before voting to hire the individual. School Board Chairman Rob Varner of District 5 said the terms of the contract will be released to the public when the 14 days are up.

If hired, Lewis will lead a diverse district, which is 58 percent black, 29 percent white and 13 percent ethnic groups, according the district’s 2012 annual report.

The nine-person panel voted at a meeting held at the Muscogee County Public Education Center. The meeting, held at noon, was followed by a news conference where local media asked the finalist questions.

Another meeting was scheduled for 1 p.m., where the mayor, city councilors, the local legislative delegation, Columbus State University officials and other community leaders were invited to meet with the candidate.

The decision comes 16 months after district's last superintendent, Susan Andrews, announced her retirement. When the search process stalled in January, the board fired the search firm McPherson & Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Neb., and hired Glenn Brock, who was the board's consultant when it hired its last two superintendents. In all, the board has viewed more than 30 applications, but only seven people have been interviewed.

Tuesday's story:The process took longer than they expected, but some Muscogee County School Board members are confident they have found the right person to serve as superintendent.

The board will meet at noon today at the Muscogee County Public Education Center to vote on the matter. If the undisclosed candidate's name is approved, the person will be declared "the finalist" and the board will have to wait 14 days before voting to hire the individual.

Board members declined Monday to release any information about the candidate. But Chairman Rob Varner of District 5 said the person would be introduced to the community at a news conference following the board meeting. The candidate's resume and application also will be released. The finalist will have an opportunity to meet with local elected officials and community leaders at a private, invitation-only event later in the day.

Varner said the 16-month search for a qualified candidate has been long and tedious, but the school board never lost sight of its goal.

"The criticism has been pretty relentless, but we tried to be true to our very initial thought, and that was that no matter how long it took, we were going to find what we thought in our judgment was the right person to lead this district and to move it forward," he said. "Looking back, was it longer than anyone thought it was going to be? Most likely. But I think good things come to those that wait, and I suspect we'll find ourselves in that position."

Cathy Williams, who was board chairwoman when the search began, said she is excited about today's vote and believes the board has found the best candidate for the job.

"I'm very pleased with the direction the board is taking," she said Monday. "It did take us a long time, but we made a commitment to the people of Muscogee County to find the very best person for that position and, quite frankly, it just took that long."

Board members have been searching for a finalist ever since the district's last superintendent, Susan Andrews, announced her retirement in March 2012.

A deadline was set for the end of 2012, but the board failed to meet the timeline.

When the process stalled in January, the board fired the search firm McPherson & Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Neb., and hired Glenn Brock, who was the board's consultant when it hired its last two superintendents. In all, the board has viewed more than 30 applications, but only seven people have been interviewed.

The board unanimously agreed to try to hire an undisclosed black male candidate they interviewed April 28 in Atlanta, but he turned down the chance to be hired before an official offer was made. If hired, he would have made history as the district's first black superintendent.

Board members have said in the past that they wanted to find a candidate that fit search guidelines developed with input from the community. One guideline required that the person have at least five years experience leading a district the size of Muscogee County, which has about 32,000 students. Varner declined to say Monday if the potential finalist meets that guideline.

"Certainly their resume, their experience and all those things are vitally important, but the reason you talk to people face to face is so you can pick up other nuances," he said.

"Will they meld well with our community, fit with our board, fit with the school district's leadership group? I don't want the community to think it was one particular item that we set forth, versus something else, that was unilaterally the reason we chose someone or didn't choose someone, because all of it has to come together."

He said the board missed the initial timeline, but didn't let it hinder the search for the best candidate.

"One should never let a timeline interfere with an appropriate hiring decision," Varner said. "And the board wisely, I think, decided to move on, not only with another search firm, but also to pass on some of the candidates we looked at earlier in the process. I think to have forced ourselves into a decision simply for the sake of a timeline would've been a terrible and foolish mistake."

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