Donald Turner’s lack of unanimous approval from the Calhoun County Board of Education will only create heartburn if things go south. The bigger issue is what is the county system’s new superintendent: a change agent or a caretaker?
For now, platitudes make it seem as if Turner, the 29-year system employee promoted this week after a 4-3 board vote, is the latter — a trusted and reliable administrator who knows the county’s schools like the back of his hand.
Board member Tobi Burt, who voted for Turner, said as much to The Star. “I think he’s the best of the (candidates) we had. We had 18 and we narrowed it down to four. Now we have someone with 29 years of experience.” Even board member Mike Webb, who did not vote for Turner, sounded far from contrarian. “I think I’ve shown him that I will have his back,” Webb said.
It’s not that the three members who didn’t vote for Turner are instant adversaries. We don’t believe that — but we’re not naive. School boards are astonishingly political, and Turner’s surely smart enough to realize that his performance reviews may be problematic if the system nosedives or encounters uncommon difficulties. We want to believe Webb’s “I will have his back” statement runs throughout the board. For now, those who concentrate on the 4-3 confirmation vote are foolishly looking for a problem that hasn’t materialized, and it may not.
We support Turner’s promotion because, like others in Calhoun County, we’ve followed his career and admire his track record. That matters. We believe he will follow the pattern of other Calhoun County educators — including Eric Mackey, now the state superintendent, and Matt Akin, now superintendent of Gulf Shores City Schools — who grow professionally and earn the right to lead our schools.
What we know, however, is that lukewarm leadership fails students and faculty. They deserve better. We’ve seen it particularly in Anniston, where ineffective boards and superintendents have stunted that system’s ability to weather fiscal and academic shortcomings. That’s why we urge Turner to be more change agent than caretaker. Don’t be timid. Don’t settle. Don’t merely pilot the ship in its usual direction. Always seek improvement.
The county superintendent’s job is complex because its schools are diverse in size, location and demographics. It’s not a one-size-fits-all gig. While similar requirements exist, what’s needed in Ohatchee isn’t what’s needed at Saks. Being superintendent in Calhoun County hardly mirrors his colleagues’ jobs in Anniston, Oxford or Jacksonville — systems that each feature only a single high school.
Turner will succeed if he can shepherd this coalition of Calhoun County schools closer to a brighter world where more students rise above Alabama’s poor academic history, where faculty are habitually empowered and families believe their children are getting the best public education this region can provide.