Phenix City Board of Education decides to interview a third superintendent candidate

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 30, 2014 

The Phenix City Board of Education isn't impressed enough with its two remaining superintendent finalists and has scheduled a third candidate to interview.

And that candidate is superintendent of the same school system from which the Phenix City board this week hired its new head football coach.

After the board emerged from Friday's closed session of about 75 minutes, board president Brad Baker announced the board will interview Troy City Schools superintendent Lee Hicks at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Central High School auditorium. The interview will be open to the public, as required by Alabama law.

On May 12, the board released the names of four finalists it wanted to interview out of the 17 applicants:

* Kenneth Burton, assistant superintendent for administration at Opelika City Schools.

* Christopher Quinn, assistant superintendent for instruction at Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools.

* Craig Ross, principal of Robertsdale High School.

* Irma Townsend, human resources director and student services supervisor for Enterprise City Schools.

But the board has interviewed only two of them.

Burton dropped out of consideration the following day. Despite already having worked for Phenix City Public Schools from 1993 to 2000 as an assistant principal and principal at South Girard Junior High and principal of Susie E. Allen Elementary, explained in a letter to the board that “there are unfinished projects in Opelika (his hometown) that I would like to see completed.”

A week later, two days before the board was scheduled to interview Ross, he became unavailable because the Cullman County Board of Education hired him as its superintendent.

“I came home from my interview and told my family that Cullman was where we need to be,” Ross said in a prepared statement, reported May 20 by WBRC, the Fox affiliate in Birmingham.

The Phenix City board interviewed Townsend on May 21 and Quinn on May 27. Friday’s called meeting was a chance for the board to announce a hiring, but the seven members unanimously decided to continue the search, Baker said after the meeting. He noted none of the other finalists has been a superintendent, and the board feels compelled to explore this opportunity, Baker said.

Sometime between the board interviewing Townsend and Quinn, Baker said, someone on behalf of Hicks relayed the Troy superintendent's interest in the Phenix City opening. Troy is the same school system which head football coach Jamey DuBose left to take over the program in Phenix City. The Phenix City board introduced DuBose to the public immediately following Quinn's superintendent interview Tuesday at Central.

DuBose and Hicks also worked together in Prattville, where DuBose was head football coach from 2008-11 and went 42-13 with two state championships. Three of those losses were forfeits due to Alabama High School Athletics Association rules violations while Hicks was Prattville's principal.

Hicks wasn’t reached for comment Friday. According to his biography on the Troy City Schools website, Hicks is familiar with the Bi-Cities because he was an elementary school teacher in the Muscogee County School District, although it doesn’t say where or when.

Hicks is a 1990 graduate of Geneva High School. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a graduate assistant assistant strength and conditioning coach at Troy University. From 2001-05 he was a teacher, coach and assistant principal at Prattville High School, where he was principal from 2005-11. He has been Troy’s superintendent for three years.

Hicks earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Auburn University, a master’s degree in physical education from Troy University and a doctorate in educational leadership and higher education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Baker emphasized that Townsend and Quinn still are under consideration, but the board wanted to expand its options, he said.

Townsend and Quinn said board attorney Sydney Smith emailed them the news to her Friday.

“I’m still excited about Phenix City,” Townsend said, “and I just respect the process.”

“I still think Phenix City is a great fit,” Quinn said. “They asked about closing the achieving gap, and I’m an instructional leader with a track record of doing that. I think I could do great things working with all the great people in Phenix City. I don’t blame the board if they have a sitting superintendent they want to interview.”

Townsend said she isn’t a candidate elsewhere. Quinn reiterated he still is under consideration for the superintendent’s position in a Virginia school district he declined to disclose, but he clarified that after two interviews there he still isn’t considered a finalist because that board hasn’t made such an announcement.

Phenix City’s 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. Now that his Phenix City contract has been terminated, he is acting superintendent of Selma City Schools as part of the Alabama State Department of Education intervention team.

Click on this story later today for more details.

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

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