Richard Hyatt: Muscogee County schools superintendent finalist Lewis was 'looking for THE job - not A job'

July 9, 2013 

When David and Karen Lewis visited the school district headquarters in June they told people in the building they were thinking about moving here and wanted to learn as much as they could about local schools.

When they came back to Macon Road Tuesday, David Lewis was introduced to the community as the sole finalist for Muscogee County school superintendent.

This is another step in a whirlwind process that began May 21 when Lewis was an unsuccessful applicant for the top spot in the Polk County School District -- the eighth largest in Florida and one of the poorest.

For the local board, it's another step toward replacing Susan Andrews, who 485 days ago announced she was stepping aside as superintendent. Tuesday's announcement means the clock is ticking on a 14-day waiting period before Lewis can be formally hired.

Even before he applied, David and Karen slipped into town unannounced to see what they could see. Only then did he call Glenn Brock, the headhunter hired to

find Andrews' successor.

"I'm a one-job kind of person," Lewis said Tuesday. "I'm particular where I work. … You look for fits, and I thought I saw a fit in Columbus."

He has spent 34 years working in schools around Lakeland. He was clearly disappointed when the board in Florida hired someone from Miami instead of a well-known associate superintendent and former high school principal.

Within a month after being rejected in Polk, the beleaguered Muscogee County School Board interviewed him -- overlooking the fact that he doesn't have a Ph.D. and hasn't led a large urban district. Each had been an announced priority in the local search.

"I was looking for the job -- not a job," Lewis said.

When Lewis met with the local board in Atlanta, he brought a reputation of being a champion for education, for working closely with classroom teachers and a habit of showing up in schoolhouses all over the county.

"If I'm hired, you'll see me at ball games and at band concerts," he said. "I want to be able to talk about a big hit or to tell a student how much I enjoyed his trumpet solo. I'm a recovering band director, but I also believe in athletics -- things hook our students and keep them interested and in school."

This style is in direct contrast with John Phillips, who for 15 months has served as interim superintendent. Phillips prefers to stay in his office, behaving like a CEO. Lewis sounds like an associate superintendent of teaching and learning.

Lewis has presented a 120-day transitional plan, and if hired he said he'll report for duty during that same week. He isn't naïve about the challenges ahead "but the classroom is the last place we should impact."

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at www.twitter.com/hyattrichard.

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