In an anticlimactic but welcomed unanimous vote, the Muscogee County School Board hired David Lewis as the school district’s new superintendent Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, the board revealed Lewis, the associate superintendent for learning in Polk County, Fla., as the lone finalist. After waiting the 14 days mandated by state law, the board sealed the deal at a called meeting in the Muscogee County Public Education Center.
Lewis’ contract is for three years with an annual salary of $170,000. His last salary was $123,599 in Polk, which has about three times the enrollment of Muscogee's approximately 32,000 students.
Muscogee’s two previous superintendents, Susan Andrews and John Phillips, had doctorates and superintendent experience — and Lewis doesn’t. Andrews’ salary was $170,000 and her total annual compensation when she left after three years in 2012 was $222,272. Phillips who served from 2003-08, had a salary of $192,000 and a total package of about $250,000 annually. The figure for Lewis’ total compensation wasn’t available Tuesday.
With his wife, Karen, beside him in the front row of the board room, Lewis received greetings and congratulations even before chairman Rob Varner of District 5 gaveled the meeting to order a few minutes after noon.
“It’s a good day for the Muscogee County School District and a good day for the City of Columbus,” Varner said as the crowd issued its first of several rounds of applause during the meeting. “ David Lewis is going to be an excellent superintendent for this school district, and he and his lovely wife, Karen, will be excellent citizens.”
Varner praised the board for its due diligence and perseverance through the search, which started after Andrews announced her retirement 16 months ago. Varner also thanked Phillips, the interim superintendent, who received a standing ovation for his service.
“He certainly was the right person for this board to call on in our time of need,” Varner said of Phillips.
When it came time for the only action item on the agenda, board members hollered over each other to make the momentous motion. The electronic voting showed unanimous approval, and Lewis stood and turned to the crowd to accept the applause, which turned into a standing ovation.
Lewis then ascended the dais as Phillips gave way to the district’s new leader.
“David, welcome to this seat,” said Phillips, who left the dais but won’t leave the district just yet. The board retained him as temporary assistant to the superintendent through Aug. 31 to help Lewis make a smooth transition. MCSD will continue to pay him $17,206 per month but on a prorated basis during that period.
When he drove north from Polk County, Fla., to explore the Columbus community incognito last month, Lewis talked with custodians at the school district’s headquarters and teens playing pickup basketball near Carver High. In addition to the requisite officials high up the organizational chart, Lewis sought his scouting report about Muscogee from folks closer to the ground. Because he is a down-to-earth kind of guy — and because that’s where he wants to make a positive impact as the district’s new superintendent.
Lewis promised the audience, “We’re going to lead this district to be the premier district in the state of Georgia.”
He also made this clear: “We are going to work on behalf of all children to ensure that all children achieve as high a level as possible, and the rigorous standards, high expectations and servant leadership will be steadfast marks of our administration going forward. I appreciate your support at this point, and I’m looking forward to the support from the community at large and parents. I am committed to Muscogee County, and I look forward to this as my new home.”
The search has taken two consultants, more than 50 applicants and seven interviews to reach Tuesday's culmination. The school board chose to keep the rest of the candidates confidential. Board members did confirm they unanimously agreed to pursue the undisclosed black male candidate they interviewed April 28 in Atlanta, but, for an unexplained reason, he dropped out of consideration before they could offer him the job.
Lewis, 56, who has spent his entire 34-year public education career in Polk County, was one of three finalists for the top position there, but his board instead hired Kathryn LeRoy, who was the chief academic officer in Duval County, Fla., and was denied the No. 1 job in that system.
Lewis then heard about the opening in Muscogee County, so he and his wife, Karen, a music educator, came to Columbus to check out the school district and the community. They were impressed, and he applied, and the board interviewed him June 21 in Atlanta, along with another undisclosed candidate.
The school board unanimously voted July 9 to make Lewis the lone finalist.
Home: Fort Meade, Fla.
Years working for Polk County Public Schools: 34
Current job: Associate superintendent for learning, Polk County Public Schools
Other jobs include: Senior director of high schools, 2005-2010; Principal of Frostproof Middle/Senior High School, 1995-2005; band director
Education: Bachelor’s degree, music education, Florida Southern College; master’s degree, music education, Vandercook School of Music; working toward a doctoral degree, National Louis University, with anticipated conferment in December 2014
Family: Wife, Karen, a music educator; daughters Monica, 29, and Stephanie, 17; son David, 24.