Alabama schools hiring new superintendent: Who the board might select and why

By the end of the day, members of the Alabama Board of Education will very likely have voted to hire the next person to lead the state’s K-12 schools.

Selecting the next state schools’ superintendent has been labeled the “most important decision” the board will make this year by Gov. Kay Ivey and others who witnessed a tumultuous year in during the previous superintendent’s tenure.

Ivey, who serves as President of the board, and interim state Superintendent Ed Richardson have chided board members, telling them they must get this next selection right.

Richardson told board members having four superintendents in less than two years is “a recipe for disaster.” Richardson became interim when the board’s previous pick, former Massachusetts Education Commissioner Michael Sentance resigned in September after 12 months and one day on the job.

During January talks with national search firm Ray and Associates, board members emphasized their desire to hire a candidate familiar with the Alabama political process.

In August 2016, the last time they appointed a superintendent, it took board members, led by former Gov. Robert Bentley, seven rounds of voting before choosing Sentance in a 5-to-4 vote.

Sentance was considered a controversial choice because he had no experience teaching or leading in a school. He ruffled feathers in the education community after saying there was an urgent need to improve Alabama’s education system and moving quickly to make changes he said were necessary.

Those outside of education saw Sentance as a breath of fresh air, unafraid to challenge a status quo they said kept Alabama at the bottom of state comparisons of education systems.

Educators across Alabama rejected Sentance’s ideas for change in large part because of his lack of experience in the classroom. Sentance resigned, or rather was pushed out by a board dissatisfied with his performance, before his initiatives could be fully implemented.

Given that experience, board members will likely choose a more traditional superintendent — likely a former teacher, principal, or local superintendent.

On April 13, search firm Chairman Gary Ray said there were 41 applicants for the Alabama job, which the firm narrowed to seven semifinalists: three from Alabama and four from other southern states.

Board members decided to interview four finalists. An alternate was named in case one of the four dropped out, but so far, no one has.

All three Alabama candidates became finalists, with the Texas candidate coming in fourth.

The finalists are School Superintendents of Alabama Executive Director Eric Mackey, Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Craig Pouncey, and former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott.

The Alabama candidates each started their careers in the classroom, ending up as superintendent of an Alabama school district. The fourth, from Texas, has no experience in the classroom.

Next up: the interviews

The board will interview the four finalists in a special 10 a.m. called meeting in Montgomery.

Each candidate will have an hour to make their case and answer questions. Communications Director Michael Sibley will ask each candidate the same set of questions.

The meeting will be livestreamed on the department’s website.

The first interview starts at 10:30 a.m. and all interviews should conclude by 3:30 p.m. board members will then complete a scoring rubric, comparing each candidate to the other. The order of candidate interviews has not been published.

Candidates will be sequestered during the process and will not have access to any electronic devices, according to Sibley.

The board is scheduled to select a superintendent at 4:30 p.m. All candidates are scheduled to stay in the building until the selection is made, Sibley said.

So who will get the job?

Looking at the candidates on paper, there are some superficial factors that seem to give some candidates an edge, but four hours of interviews should have a huge influence on the final selection.

Given board members’ past experience with Sentance, it seems unlikely they would hire a candidate with no teaching or administrative experience, likely limiting former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott’s chances.

Given that all of Alabama’s superintendents have been males, it may be tough for Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy to break that glass ceiling. Maybe the board (eight of the nine are female) might be willing to break that trend.

Mackey and Pouncey are both are well known to board members and have a lot of experience in Montgomery. Each has their supporters, so it will likely come down to what board members hear in the interviews.

The search firm has a two-year guarantee, meaning if the candidate the board hires leaves or is let go within two years of their hire, Ray and Associates will come back and do it all over again for only the cost of travel and production expenses. This search cost $50,000.

Links to the full packet of information board members received about each of the finalists are included in the descriptions below.

Here’s a little more about the job and the candidates.

The job

The Alabama State Superintendent of Education is appointed by the the Alabama Board of Education. Eight of the elected positions are by district, and the ninth member is the Governor of Alabama, who serves as President.

The state chief will oversee the education of more than 730,000 students in 1,500 schools in 137 school districts. The K-12 education budget for the current year is more than $8 billion in combined state, federal and local spending. The state superintendent oversees combined federal and state spending, amounting to around $5 billion. Local superintendents are in charge of local tax dollars.

The pay

The amount listed in the online job notice ranged from $192,000 to $250,000, plus “an excellent comprehensive benefits package.” Search firm Chairman Gary Ray told board members they need to consider the higher end of the scale as the appropriate level of pay for the job.

The listing states the final pay “will be negotiated and determined based upon proven experience, qualifications and meeting Board criteria.”

The expectations

The state superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board. The contract will dictate the terms of employment.

Board members determined what they want in the next state superintendent. Of note is the requirement stating, “proven skills in working with political leaders at the state level.” This is one area Richardson harps on with board members: no one has been managing the relationship between lawmakers and the department of education. And lawmakers determine how much money Alabama’s K-12 schools get.

Here’s the full list of criteria the board wanted in the next superintendent, taken from the online flyer announcing the opening.

The finalists

Eric Mackey

Current position: Executive Director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama. SSA is a state-level advocacy and membership group composed of local superintendents in Alabama.

Previous education experience (in chronological order): Teacher, Saks High School, Calhoun County Schools, 1993-1997; Assistant Principal and Teacher, Pleasant Valley School, Jacksonville City Schools, 1997-1999; Principal, Kitty Stone Elementary in Jacksonville City Schools, 1999-2002; Superintendent, Jacksonville City Schools, 2002-2010; Associate Director, School Superintendents of Alabama, 2010 (eight months), Executive Director, School Superintendents of Alabama, 2010-present.

College degrees: Ed.D., Educational Leadership, University of Alabama, 2001; Ed.S., Educational Leadership, University of Alabama, 1998; Master of Arts, Biology Education, University of Alabama, 1995; Bachelor of Science, General Science, Jacksonville State University, 1992.

Current salary: $232,000

Annual budget overseen: $1.3 million

References on application: Matt Akin, Superintendent, Huntsville City Schools; Karen DeLano, Auburn City Schools; Jeff Goodwin, Oxford City Schools; John Heard, Superintendent, Perry County Schools.


Letters of recommendation included in candidate packet: Lori Tippets, 12-year member of Jacksonville City Board of Education; Keith Davis, Superintendent Winfield City Schools; Daniel Boyd, Superintendent, Lowndes County Schools; Sam Houston, former superintendent, Decatur City Schools; Kelley Pearce, Associate Dean of Enrollment and Retention, Gadsden State Community College; Sue Jones, nine-year member of Jacksonville City Board of Education; Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville; Marvin Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Boys Scouts of America, Tukabatchee Area Council, Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery; Faron Hollinger, former Superintendent of Baldwin County schools and current Chief Executive Officer, Akribos Consulting Group; (Ret.) Col. Gregory Potts, U.S. Army; Sara Blount, Chief School Finance Officer, Jacksonville City Schools; Margaret Allen, former superintendent Montgomery County Schools.

Eric Mackey’s application packet

Kathy Murphy

Current position: Superintendent, Hoover City Schools, Hoover, Alabama

Previous education experience (in chronological order): Physical Education Teacher, Auburn Junior High School, Auburn City Schools, 1984-1985; Assistant Professor, Judson College, 1985-1988; Assistant Professor, University of West Georgia, 1988-1993; Principal, Greenville Middle School, Butler County Schools, 1993-2002; Principal, Greenville High School, Butler County Schools, 2002-2008; Administrative Assistant to Butler County Superintendent, 2008-2010; Principal, Charles Henderson High School, Troy City Schools, 2010-2011; Superintendent, Monroe County Schools, 2011-2015; Superintendent, Hoover City Schools, 2015 to present.

College degrees: Ed.S., Educational Leadership, Auburn University Montgomery, 1995; Master of Education, Educational Leadership, Auburn University Montgomery, 1994; Doctor of Education, Physical Education, Auburn University, 1987; Master of Education, Physical Education, Auburn University, 1982; Bachelor of Science, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Troy University, 1981.

Current salary: $207,900

Annual budget overseen: $168 million

References on application: Ruth Ash, retired Deputy Superintendent, Alabama State Department of Education; Jack Hawkins, Chancellor, Troy University; Patricia Black, President, Monroe County School Board; Beth Chapman, Alabama Secretary of State Emeritus.

Letters of recommendation included in candidate packet: Ruth Ash, retired Deputy Superintendent, Alabama State Department of Education and founding partner, Education Solutions; Jack Hawkins, Jr., Chancellor, Troy University; Beth Chapman, Alabama Secretary of State Emeritus; Jean Thompson, retired Director, Lurleen B. Wallace Community College – Greenville Campus; Patsy Black, Monroe County Board of Education

Kathy Murphy’s application packet

Warren (Craig) Pouncey

Current position: Superintendent, Jefferson County Schools, Birmingham, Alabama

Previous education experience (in chronological order): Teacher, Harrison Elementary School, Montgomery County Schools, 1980-1981; Teacher, Highland Home School, Crenshaw County Schools, 1981-1994; Assistant Principal, Crenshaw County Schools, 1994-1995; Superintendent, Crenshaw County Schools, 1995-2003; Director of Administration and Finance, State Department of Education, 2003-2005; Assistant State Superintendent, Administrative and Financial Services, State Department of Education, 2005-2010; Deputy State Superintendent, Administrative and Financial Services, State Department of Education, 2010-2011; Chief of Staff, State Department of Education, 2012-2014; Superintendent, Jefferson County Schools, 2014 to present.

College degrees: Ed.D., Educational Leadership, Samford University, 2010; Ed.S., Educational Leadership, Auburn University, 1993; Master of Science, Elementary Education, Troy State University, 1985; Bachelor of Science, Elementary Education, Troy State University, 1980.

Current salary: $264,736

Annual budget overseen: $360 million

References on application: Martha Peek, Superintendent, Mobile County Schools; Dennis Coe, retired Director of Office of Supporting Programs, Alabama State Department of Education; Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma; Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

Letters of recommendation included in candidate packet: George Clark, President, Manufacture Alabama; Jennifer Parsons, School Board Member, Jefferson County Schools; Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma; Walter Gonsoulin, Superintendent, Fairfield City Schools*.

*Pouncey’s letters of recommendation were dated between May 3 and May 13, 2016. Titles below signatures on letters were included here. Gonsoulin is now a deputy superintendent in Jefferson County Schools.

Warren (Craig) Pouncey’s application packet

Robert Scott

Current position: Principal, Texas Star Alliance, an integrated public affairs firm with offices in Austin and Houston, Texas. The position of principal is to provide “strategic counsel to state and national clients on education issues,” according to the application.

Previous education experience (in chronological order): Legislative assistant to Texas Sen. Gene Green, 1992; Legislative Director for Texas Rep. Gene Green, 1993-1994; Director of Programs and Legislative Liaison, Texas Education Agency, 1994-1995; Senior Division Director, Office of the Commissioner, Texas Education Agency, 1995-2000; Senior Advisor for Public Education to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 2001-2003; Chief Deputy Commissioner, Texas Education Agency, 2003-2007; Commissioner of Education, Texas Education Agency, 2007-2012; Partner, Beatty, Bangle and Strama, 2012-2013; Principal, Texas Star Alliance, 2013 to present.

College degrees: J.D., Law, University of Texas, Austin, 2001; Bachelor of Science, Government, University of Texas, Austin, 1992.

Current salary: Scott’s application states “varies”

Annual budget overseen: none given

References on application: Mike Moses, Consultant and former Commissioner of Education; David Thompson, Partner; Todd Webster, Consultant; Terry Grier, former Superintendent, Houston Independent School District, Texas.

Letters of recommendation included in candidate packet: Barbara Calhoun Cargill, former Chairman, Texas State Board of Education; R. Todd Webster, Governmental Affairs Consultant and Lobbyist; Terry Grier, former Superintendent Houston Independent School District, Texas.

Robert Scott’s application packet

Who do you think will be Alabama’s next state superintendent? Tell us in the comments below.


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