Phenix City hires Randy Wilkes as new school superintendent

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJune 10, 2014 

The Phenix City Board of Education ended a nearly six-month search for a new superintendent Tuesday night when it hired Crenshaw County Superintendent Randy Wilkes.

The surprise move came at the beginning of a scheduled work session after a 30-minute closed session to discuss "good name and character," as allowed under Alabama law.

Wilkes' hiring was not on the agenda and he was not one of the two candidates the board publicly interviewed in late May. His name did not surface publicly until it was called for a vote Tuesday night. But board President Brad Baker met with him on June 4 in Montgomery, Ala., and five of the seven board members met individually with him last Thursday in Phenix City.

Board members Baker, Kelvin Redd, Rick Carpenter, Fran Ellis and Paul Stamp voted to hire Wilkes, who was not at the meeting. Barbara Mitchell and Zara Parham, who did not meet with Wilkes last week, abstained.

Wilkes is scheduled to be in Phenix City today to sign his contract, which will pay him a base salary of $145,000, Baker said. He will start work on July 1.

Interim Superintendent Rod Hinton, who has led the school system since late November when the board parted ways with former Superintendent Larry DiChiara, will relinquish his duties later this month.

The superintendent search stalled about two weeks ago after the board publicly interviewed two candidates -- Irma Townsend, human resources director and student services supervisor for Enterprise City Schools, and Christopher Quinn, assistant superintendent for instruction at Stafford County (Va.) Public Schools. Kenneth Burton, assistant superintendent for administration at Opelika City Schools; Craig Ross, then-principal of Robertsdale High School; and Troy Public Schools Superintendent Lee Hicks withdrew from consideration.

Baker said that Wilkes emerged as a candidate last week when he turned to the Alabama Department of Education to make recommendations.

"We got to the end and we didn't have a candidate," Baker said. "I talked to the state, and they said we did not have to open the process back up. They told me to go get who we wanted."

Baker said he talked to at least two candidates last week. He declined to name the second one, but said it was a minority candidate who was out of the board's price range.

"We went out and got the best person we could get," Baker said after the vote.

Board member Paul Stamp said Wilkes was the right fit.

"I think he is the right person for us at this point," Stamp said. "When I talked to him, I saw a passion for education."

Wilkes comes from a district with about 2,400 students and three small high schools in Luverne, Highland Home and Brantley. That compares to the nearly 7,000 students in the Phenix City school system and with 11 schools K-12.

Wilkes has been with the Crenshaw County School District for at least 18 years, according to a 2010 article in the Greenville, Ala., Advocate. He has a teacher, administrative and coaching background, all of it in south Alabama.

Wilkes was the Crenshaw County coordinator of special education, federal programs, teacher certification and after-school programs before he was named superintendent in 2010. He was also principal of Highland Home School from 1996-2003. Prior to that, he taught and coached at Luverne School. He began his teaching career in the Troy City Schools System.

Wilkes' hiring comes as DiChiara is in a lawsuit with the Phenix City Board of Education. DiChiara is seeking the salary and benefits he says the board still owes him for the remaining 4½ years left on his contract.

The seven-member board unanimously voted in a called meeting Nov. 26 to place DiChiara on administrative leave and to seek a buyout of 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.

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