The Calhoun County school board selected Donald Turner as its new superintendent Tuesday.
Board members voted 4-3 in favor of Turner, a 29-year employee of the school system who was serving as the system’s executive director at the time of the vote.
“I want everyone in the county to know that we’re transparent, that we’re consistent and that we have integrity,” Turner said.
Turner was one of four finalists chosen for the public interview. The others included Shannon Stanley, superintendent of Boaz City Schools; Anthony Dowdy, principal of Pell City High School; and former Calhoun County deputy Superintendent Karen Winn. Winn withdrew before the interviews.
Among Turner’s duties at the central office, he has been the system’s administrator over truancy, residency, and students transitioning from homeschool to public school. He’s a Wellborn High School graduate, and now lives in Wellington.
The board said Turner would begin in his new role immediately, though details of his contract remain to be worked out.
Board members talked behind closed doors for about 30 minutes before the vote, invoking their ability to convene in special session to discuss matters relating to employees.
They emerged and cast a split vote. Lisa Amerson, Tobi Burt, Debbie Hess and Julie Hood voted in favor of Turner. Mike Almaroad, Mike Webb and Jeff Winn voted no.
There was little discussion before the vote, though Webb said his decision was based on the desire of faculty and staff to hire someone from outside. The board surveyed employees before the finalists were selected: While transparency and strong leadership were the top desires, Webb said the results showed an interest in bringing in a new voice.
“I think they wanted a clean slate,” Webb said in comments after the meeting. Before casting his vote, Webb said that even though he preferred to look outside the system, he’d support Turner in the position if he was chosen.
“I think I’ve shown him that I will have his back,” Webb said.
Burt, who voted for Turner, said he considered Turner’s experience in the system a plus.
“I think he’s the best of the ones we had,” he said. “We had 18 and we narrowed it down to four. Now we have someone with 29 years of experience.”
Asked what he would change as superintendent, Turner said he hoped to improve the public perception of the school system.
“It’s actually one of the greatest school systems in the state,” Turner said.
Calhoun County received an overall “B” on A-F report cards issued by the state earlier this year, though educators have sometimes criticized the grades as a too-simple view of educational policy. It’s the largest of Calhoun County’s five public school districts, with a $94 million budget and about 8,300 students.
Board member Mike Almaroad said he’s concerned about the decline in enrollment the system has seen in recent years. That problem’s not unique to Calhoun County: enrollment statewide has been dropping by thousands of students per year due largely to an aging population. Almaroad still hopes the county will find ways to convince parents to stick with the system, instead of homeschooling or choosing private schools.
“That’s a concern of mine: having a leader who can keep students in the system,” he said in a telephone interview after the vote.
Almaroad cast a no vote. He said he preferred another candidate, Shannon Stanley of Boaz, because she’d already run a school system as superintendent.
“I voted my conscience, but I wish him the best,” he said of Turner.
Board member Lisa Amerson said she voted for Turner because of his broad experience within the system. Turner has held principal or vice principal positions at multiple schools including Wellborn Elementary, Saks Middle and Alexandria High.
“Mr. Turner has experience at the elementary, middle and high school level,” Amerson said.
Split votes for superintendents seem uncommon. Outgoing interim superintendent Jon Paul Campbell was approved in a 7-0 vote, and according to past accounts in The Star, former superintendent Joe Dyar got a 7-0 vote when he was hired in 2010.
Almaroad said he didn’t expect the split to be a problem for Turner in the future.
“If you’ve got four votes, you can do a lot on the school board,” he said.