Congratulations are due the Pell City Board of Education for its handling of the school system’s recent superintendent vacancy, created by the retirement of Dr. Michael Barber.
School superintendents are essentially CEOs. Not only are they charged with providing a vision and setting a tone for the systems they oversee, they must also manage a multidimensional entity that includes not only educational components but also transportation, food and facilities management services. It’s a big job loaded with challenges.
The Pell City BOE wisely hired the Alabama Association of School Boards to help conduct the search. The AASB surveyed faculty, students and the community to gauge what qualities they wanted in a superintendent, and then selected the top five applicants for the job.
The BOE set up public interviews with each of those five individuals, asking each the same set of questions. Besides addressing those questions face to face with the BOE, the candidates were allowed to provide written answers for board members to study. The BOE also held a reception for each candidate following their interview.
It was a smart, orderly and open process.
The top five candidates included two from within the system, two more who call the local area home and one candidate who wasn’t from the area but was the only one of the five with previous superintendent’s experience.
We have no doubt any of the five were capable of making an effective superintendent, but at decision time, the BOE chose Dr. James Martin III of Smiths, Alabama. It was a brave decision because Martin was the only finalist who wasn’t local, but board members felt Martin best fit the profile of what the Pell City community, based on those AASB surveys, was looking for in its next superintendent. That Martin had previous experience — having served from 2008-14 as superintendent for Chattahoochee County Schools in Georgia and from 2014-18 as the superintendent for Harris County (Georgia) Schools — weighed heavy in the BOE’s thinking.
It’s easy to criticize government when government fails the people it is supposed to serve, but the BOE’s search was an example of government working well, and it’s worthy of applause.
The Pell City BOE’s effort looks all the more impressive when considering, say, the Talladega City school board’s superintendent search in 2018. The Talladega BOE interviewed only one candidate, Tony Ball, who it then voted to hire. And while Ball has done a fine job in his first year-plus in Talladega, the very limited process the BOE used in making its decision created a feeling of mistrust in certain segments of the community, and that mistrust certainly hasn’t made Ball’s job any easier.
Wanted: More unity, less bickering in Talladega
The news last week that the majority of provisional absentee ballots in Talladega’s municipal elections may have been mishandled was just another black eye for a city that has dealt with one embarrassment after another during the term of the current City Council and BOE, another black eye to feed the feelings of mistrust and cynicism within the municipality.
Looking ahead, as Talladega draws closer to a new council and BOE taking office in November, we hope the individuals who make up those entities will adopt a spirit of teamwork. We hope they will be wise enough not to allow differences of opinion to become petty grudges, and we hope they will strive to create a feeling of unity. Talladega deserves better than all the bickering of the last four years.