Names of Phenix City superintendent finalists released

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 12, 2014 

The Phenix City Board of Education has released the names of the four finalists to be the school system's next superintendent:

• Kenneth Burton, assistant superintendent for administration in Opelika City Schools.

• Christopher Quinn, assistant superintendent for instruction in Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools.

• Craig Ross, principal of Robertsdale (Ala.) High School.

• Irma Townsend, human resources director and student services supervisor for Enterprise (Ala.) City Schools.

The board released only the names but no other information about the finalists in Monday afternoon's announcement.

The interviews will be open to the public in accordance with Alabama law. The tentative interview schedule lists Burton on May 20, Townsend on May 21 and Ross on May 22. Quinn's interview date hasn't been set. The times and locations for the interviews also haven't been determined.

The superintendent vacancy was created when the seven-member board unanimously voted in a called meeting Nov. 26 to place Larry DiChiara on administrative leave and to seek a buyout of the 4½ years left on his contract. The board has refused to explain why it chose to abruptly end DiChiara's 9½-year tenure, which includes being named Alabama Superintendent of the Year three years ago.

Such a buyout is expected to cost more than $750,000, but the deal hasn't been made six months later because DiChiara and the board haven't settled on a figure. The dispute is focused on the benefits owed in the contract. DiChiara's two lawsuits against the board are pending in Russell County Circuit Court.

Rod Hinton, a 16-year veteran of Phenix City Public Schools with experience as a teacher, principal and central office administrator, as well as an executive in the corporate world, came out of retirement to serve as interim superintendent.

The Alabama State Department of Education usually allows interim superintendents to serve only 180 days. That means Hinton's term would expire at the end of May, but board president Brad Baker has said a department official assured him the school system will receive a 30-day waiver.

Baker said Monday that the board unanimously agreed on the four finalists out of the 17 applicants.

“That makes you feel good about the ones we’ve chosen,” he said.

Burton, 51, is a 27-year educator and already has worked in Phenix City schools. From 1993 to 2000, he was assistant principal at South Girard Junior High, principal of Susie E. Allen Elementary and then went back to South Girard as principal. He left Phenix City to return to his hometown of Opelika, where he graduated high school in 1981. He earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Auburn University in 1986. His master’s (1994) and specialist’s (2001) degrees in education administration are from Troy University. He expects to complete his doctorate, also in education administration, from Auburn by December.

“I had a wonderful experience in Phenix City,” Burton said. “I feel very strongly that, if provided the opportunity, I can come back and once again be a part of the community and continue to assist Phenix City schools in their efforts to reach academic excellence.”

Townsend, 53, also is an Opelika High graduate (1979). During her 32 years as an educator, she has been a teacher, guidance counselor, principal, central officer administrator, grant writer and project director. She has worked at LaGrange High School and in the Alabama schools systems of Ozark City, Dale County and Coffee County before spending the past 18 years in Enterprise. She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and education from Auburn, a master’s degree in school counseling from Auburn, certification in school administration from Troy and a doctorate in counseling education and supervision from Auburn.

“At this stage in my career, I just have such a belief in this generation,” Townsend said. “I just know I have the vision for a school district and the experience, so I can provide some positive leadership and be part of a great system and a great team. I was born and raised in Opelika, so it would be almost like coming home for me.” Burton and Townsend said they aren’t candidates for any other superintendent jobs. Townsend was a finalist for the top spot in Enterprise last fall.

Asked why they still want to work for the Phenix City board despite DiChiara’s controversial exit, they had the following responses:

• “I really don’t have any comment about that situation due to the fact that I had such a wonderful experience in Phenix City,” Burton said. “It groomed me for where I am today. So why not return to a system that is progressive and a place where you have opportunity to grow professionally?”

• “I have not really kept up with that process much at all,” Townsend said. “I just knew there was an opening and felt it was a good fit. That school district is very similar to ours in Enterprise.”

Quinn and Ross, the other two finalists, weren’t reached for comment Monday.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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