Muscogee County School Board selects superintendent semi-finalists

In a closed session Monday night, the Muscogee County School Board selected four semifinalists to interview out of the 22 applicants in the search for the district's next superintendent.

Those undisclosed candidates will be interviewed here Dec. 5 in another closed session, said board chairwoman Cathy Williams. A second round of interviews will be scheduled for the finalists, and those will be in open session, she said.

The board still is on track to make a hire by the end of December, she said, but the new superintendent might not be available to start here until the summer.

Although she wouldn't name the semifinalists, Williams did say they comprise a mix of genders, races and geography.

None of the semifinalists fit all of the criteria the board drafted, especially five years of successful experience as a superintendent in a similar urban district, Williams added. So she asked the search firm, McPherson & Jacobson LLC, to contact someone she had in mind that does fit all the criteria but hadn't applied.

Asked whether that person is Phenix City native Eugene White, the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, Williams answered yes.

White is the 2002 and 2009 Indiana Superintendent of the Year and the 2007 National Association of Black School Educators Superintendent of the Year. He played on South Girard High's 1966 Alabama state championship basketball team and graduated with academic honors as he set career scoring records at Alabama A&M. He is in the next class to be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame in February.

And he has a recent history of looking to move back South. He was a finalist to be superintendent in Mobile, Ala., and Greenville, S.C., this year.

White wasn't reached for comment Monday night, but he said earlier in the day that he hadn't applied because he didn't see the vacancy posted. He will be 65 next month and can retire now, he said. He has two years remaining on his contract in Indianapolis, where he has been since 2005, he said.

Asked if he would be interested in being superintendent in Muscogee County, White said, "That's my home area, so I wouldn't mind moving back there. My wife has a lot of family there, and my mother still lives there."

Former Shaw High School principal Jim Arnold confirmed Monday afternoon that he is a candidate to be Muscogee's superintendent.

In fact, Arnold said, consultant John Smith with McPherson & Jacobson told him he is among the applicants the firm was going to recommend to the board for an interview. It's unclear whether Arnold is among the four semifinalists.

Arnold joins Phenix City Public Schools superintendent Larry DiChiara as the only other confirmed applicant. When asked whether he knows his status, DiChiara said Monday afternoon, "I haven't gotten anything, so we'll just sit tight and see."

Arnold, 60, has been the superintendent of Pelham City Schools in south Georgia for two years. That district has 1,520 students; MCSD has 31,884.

After working 19 years in MCSD, Arnold said he knows the system well, still has a home in Columbus and returns to the area to visit his grandchildren.

"It's home," he said. "I'm familiar with the district, familiar with the good, the bad and the ugly, and I think I can make a difference for kids."