Dimon Kendrick-Holmes: Feeling good and feeling bright

July 12, 2013 

Earlier this week, I returned home from a family road trip and realized that I'd left a wheelbarrow upright in the backyard. It was slap full of rain.

Apparently, it had started raining here in Columbus right after we left and didn't stop until we'd returned two weeks later.

Looks like some other stuff happened too. Like the Muscogee County School Board finally found a superintendent.

Maybe I'm just in a good mood after a great vacation -- which I'll tell you about another time -- but it feels like the sun is starting to peek behind those clouds over the Taj Mahal.

David Lewis could be a really good choice. Time will tell, of course, but here's why I feel good about it:

The guy seems to genuinely want to be here. For 32 years, he advanced through the ranks of the Polk County (Fla.) School District -- from teacher and band director to principal to director of high schools and then to associate superintendent of learning.

And finally, just as the youngest of his three children is graduating from high school, he learns that he won't be named superintendent there. It's time to move on.

He hasn't applied anywhere else. Somebody suggests that Muscogee County is looking for a superintendent and may be a good fit. He applies, visits Columbus with his wife and discovers that they like it here. That's before he even interviews.

Also, the guy actually used the word "transparent." John Phillips has a lot of skills -- he made a mind-boggling number of huge decisions while working 20 hours a week -- but you'd never call him transparent.

Susan Andrews was transparent, and I believe that's why she was chosen to replace Phillips when he retired.

Now everybody seems to agree that we also need somebody who can handle the complexity of a large district. Lewis has just spent three decades in a system with three times as many students as Muscogee County.

And many of them live in poverty. Polk County has roughly the same percentage of students on free and reduced lunch as does Muscogee County. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent update, 16.4 percent of people in Polk County live below the poverty level, compared to 18.8 in Columbus. That's pretty close.

Sure, our wish list called for somebody in the top job at a huge district. But was that really going to happen? This guy has been the superintendent of learning for 95,000 students and 6,000 teachers spread over 163 sites -- including a whopping 66 elementary schools -- while at the same time serving as the district's director of high schools and director of fine arts. He's ready for a top job.

OK, it's not a perfect fit. He hasn't earned his doctorate yet, which I think is a minor point but others don't.

More concerning is his lack of experience in an urban district. Yes, Polk County is big -- nearly eight times more area than Muscogee County -- but here we have nearly three times as many people per square mile.

Yes, Polk County is diverse, but 63 percent of its residents are white and less than 16 percent are black. And according to k12Rate.com, only four schools or learning centers in Polk County have a majority of black students.

In Muscogee County, 46 percent of our residents are black, and 43 percent are white. Nearly 70 percent of our schools have a majority of black students.

That shouldn't matter, but around here it does.

The new guy will have a lot to learn. I think he can do it.

I think things are brightening up. We'll see.

Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, dkholmes@ledger-enquirer.com.

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