Muscogee County School Board to interview semifinalists for superintendent job today

The Muscogee County School Board will meet today for a closed session to interview the semifinalists in the search for the district's next superintendent.

The names of semifinalists haven't been disclosed, but we do know two of the 22 applicants who didn't make the cut:

Former Shaw High School principal Jim Arnold, now the superintendent of Pelham (Ga.) City Schools, had confirmed that he was a candidate. He even said consultant John Smith with the search firm McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha, Neb., told him he was among the applicants the firm recommended to the board for an interview. Tuesday, however, Arnold said Smith had told him the board didn't include him among the semifinalists.

Phenix City Public Schools superintendent Larry DiChiara also had confirmed he applied, but he has said he isn't a semifinalist.

Although she wouldn't name the semifinalists, Muscogee County School Board chairwoman Cathy Williams did say they comprise a mix of genders, races and geography.

No semifinalist fits all of the criteria the board drafted, especially five years of successful experience as a superintendent in a similar urban district, Williams has said. So she asked the search firm to contact someone she had in mind that does fit all the criteria but hadn't applied.

That person is Eugene White, the superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools and a Phenix City native. 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.

Indianapolis Star education reporter Scott Elliott, however, reported that White told the firm he didn't plan to be a candidate.

"Right now, I'd have to say I'm ruling the whole thing out," White told Elliott. "They have their candidates, and I didn't apply."

All of which leads us back to where we started: The Muscogee County School Board will interview four mystery candidates today in a marathon closed session, starting at 8:30 a.m. in open session at the Muscogee County Public Education Center.

Each interview is scheduled for 1 hour and 45 minutes, with 15-minute breaks, and lunch in the middle. Board members have a list of 20 questions each semifinalist will be asked, plus unscripted follow-ups.

After the interviews, the next steps are unclear, Williams said. It all depends on how many finalists the board chooses. The board might not even deliberate today.

State law requires the governing body filling an executive position to release the names of as many as three finalists. Williams said the board will comply with the "letter of the law." She also said the board plans to give the public the opportunity to meet the finalists and give the board feedback.

Asked whether she is sure the district's next superintendent is in this batch of semifinalists, Williams said, "I am not, because I have not met them. I put a lot of worth on face-to-face and eyeball-to-eyeball. What they look like on paper is only half of the equation."