Richard Hyatt: Superintendent David Lewis has to fill in the gaps

September 12, 2013 

When a college names a head football coach, the new guy is usually given a green light to hire his own offensive and defensive coordinators, and that same unspoken rule often applies to incoming school superintendents.

It may not have been included in his written contract, but during the interview process a tacit understanding was reached between the school board and David Lewis that he would be able to hire a high-level official once he became superintendent of Muscogee County schools.

This week Lewis played that important trump card and recommended hiring Rebecca Bratten as deputy superintendent -- a position left unfilled since Robin Pennock retired more than five years ago.

Lewis and Braaten worked together in Polk County schools for 11 years, and if the school board approves her appointment at its meeting on Monday night, she will become his chief aide, ready to implement vital changes he proposes in local middle and high school classrooms.

That was Braaten's strong point as an assistant principal under Lewis and, later, when she was a system-wide administrator in the sprawling Florida county located between Orlando and Tampa. Her husband, Ben -- a former women's basketball coach at Webber International University -- is looking for a job here as a high school science teacher.

Offering new superintendents the right to hire isn't a novel idea. Through the years, previous boards allowed Braxton Nail, Jim Burns, Bob Bushong and John Phillips to hire assistants. Susan Andrews could have but she left the position vacant because of financial concerns. Then, when Andrews suddenly resigned, the system floundered without an obvious successor or someone to keep the seat warm until a new leader was hired.

If approved, Bratten will be paid $122,500 annually, bringing the average salary of cabinet-level administrators to $114,657.45 a year. That includes Lewis, who is making $170,000. This compares to teachers and principals whose annual pay is $50,313.48 and $97,494.10, respectively.

Lewis took over on July 24 and he's dealing with a shortage of experienced schoolhouse leaders at the top of his chain of command -- a deficit found throughout the system's organizational chart.

Of the nine current members of the superintendent's cabinet, only Chief of Student Services Melvin Blackwell and Chief of Academics Vernoica Collins were ever a principal or assistant principal. Braaten would be the third. To further dilute experience on the academic side, five members of Lewis' inner circle with various areas of expertise have no classroom experience.

And Lewis isn't done yet. He suggested other changes are coming.

That could mean more new faces or a shuffle of familiar ones. Whether newcomers will have Florida driver's licenses remains to be seen.

Give him time. He hasn't even reached the halfway mark of his 120-day plan.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him on Twitter@hyattrichard.

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