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Board to search for new superintedent

Staff Report

The process of selecting the next superintendent of Tallassee City Schools is underway. At last Tuesday’s school board meeting, the decision to not extend the contract of Dr. Kenneth Varner was carried by a 4-3 vote. The contract expires on June 30.

Varner replaced Dr. Jim Jeffers after his retirement in 2012.

“It's been an honor and a privilege to work for Tallassee City Schools as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and most recently as superintendent.  I have had many successes at every level,” Varner noted in a statement. “As superintendent, I was able to lead the revision of the board policy manual, launched a one-to-one initiative at THS and built up our cash reserve. We have increased dual enrollment, AP exam success, ACT scores and graduation rates.  District enrollment has steadily increased over the past three years.  We’ve been able to bring in some great coaches and have had an abundance of athletic success.  Our music programs have continued to thrive. I’ve assembled a team of administrators, both in the schools and in the central office, that I believe is second to none.

“Unfortunately, there were also some challenges that I simply was not able to overcome as superintendent, and those unmet challenges resulted in the board’s decision.  While it is disappointing that this position didn’t work out for me, I am excited about working in another position and using my skill set in a way that continues to move this system forward.  While I am understandably saddened by this decision, I remain as convinced as ever that it’s a great time to be a Tallassee Tiger!”

Supporters of Varner spoke prior to the board’s vote. Among them was former board member Jim White, who was on the board that hired Varner.

“I’m impressed with his credentials,” White said. “I’ve seen nothing that makes me think we made a mistake.”

Board member Chris Price addressed the decision. “Each board member took the decision seriously,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision for any of us involved.”

Price, Damain Carr, Ruthanne McCaig and Sandra Patterson voted against the contract renewal. Danny Ingram, Rex Ledbetter and board chairman Steve Burak were in favor of retaining the superintendent.

“(He’s) guilty before any kind of trial, and there is no trial,” said Burak. “The board has been bullied by accusations.”

Ingram also chimed in. “For me, it’s almost a polarizing situation,” he said. “We are going to have one group for and one group against.”

The board has met twice since Tuesday night. The Alabama Association of School Boards has been hired to conduct the search for the next superintendent. Susan Salter with the organization noted that Linda Ingram, who most recently served as Coffee County School System’s superintendent, would lead Tallassee’s search with the assistance of retired Troy superintendent, Hank Jones. Salter asked for three board member liaisons to help assist with any questions that might arise during the search.  McCaig, Ingram and Burak volunteered. 

A tentative date of April 6 was scheduled for a community engagement meeting where the general public can express their desires for the search.  April 1 is the tentative launch date for posting the position, which must be advertised for 30 days according to state law. 

The Alabama Association of School Boards plans on delivering the top five finalists to the board the week of May 12, where interviews, which will be open to the public, will be conducted.  The plan is for the school system to host one finalist per day with the interview taking place sometime in the evening of each day.  The Tallassee board of education will have the final vote on the candidate hired for the position.

The salary and qualifications were discussed and voted on in a special called Board of Education meeting following a Monday evening work session. The salary range is $110,000 to $125,000, which is subject to negotiation commensurate with qualifications, experience and a proven track record. The board set the following seven qualifications for applying for the position: 1.) Must be a leader with unquestionable integrity;  2.) Must be committed to providing students and staff the recourses necessary to reach their full potential;  3.) Must have at least three years experience in school administration;  4.) Must be eligible for the appropriate certification to be an Alabama superintendent;  5.) Must have a master’s degree in education from an accredited college or university;  6.)  Is expected to relocate and reside in the greater Tallassee within a reasonable time frame; 7.) Must be able to communicate and work with diverse community group.

Salter asked board members to give their main goals for the future of the school system. “To be a respected, highly sought after system that people want to be a part of,” said McCaig.

“Comfort in the workplace and a mutual respect in the workplace,” added Ledbetter. Carr wants “communication with the town.” Ingram seeks a “unified system working towards one goal.” Patterson asked “to continue moving forward in technology,” while Price and Burak both cited improvements in testing.

Among the character traits stressed for the candidate by the board include; honesty, strong moral background, person who can take criticism, humble nature, high educational and technological standards.

The school board has hired the Alabama Association of School Boards to assist with the search for a new superintendent. As required by state law, Tallassee will have 180 days to fill the position or the state will appoint a superintendent for them.

Tallassee Board of Education attorney Joe Scarborough provided options for Varner through June 30. Varner could be retained until then or be placed on paid administrative leave. A determination will have to be introduced in a future meeting if the board opts for leave.

“I don’t think anybody on this board will dispute that I come to work every day and I work hard even through my 20 years up to my superintendency. I wouldn’t have even gotten to be superintendent if that hadn't been the case,” said Varner. “I don’t think anybody on the board would say that I tried to submarine or sabotage anything when things may not have gone my way. It’s in my best interest and I think it’s in your best interest to allow things to play out through June 30. I think it sends a proper message to the pool that’s coming in.

“I think it’s in our mutual best interest to have a good superintendent going forward. It’s unfortunate that I’m not going to be that superintendent. If I said I wasn’t disappointed I’d be lying to you, but I respect the board’s decision. I feel like I’ve done you a good job as a teacher, as an assistant principal, as a principal and it didn’t work out as superintendent. That’s okay, but I do have the knowledge and skills to run the day to day operations and to keep the process flowing.”

Varner is a tenured employee and will be required to be placed in a position with comparable pay to an assistant principal by July 1.

Burak recommended Varner be moved to a technology position. “It would be something that taps into his strengths and abilities that would not require any supervision on his part. It would be a position to make sure our Promethean boards are functional and how to use the iPads effectively. We are where we are today with technology because of Dr. Varner.”

“I have two decades of service,” Varner noted. “That two decades of service says, I love Tallassee. If it’s not in this role, I want to see the school system be successful in another role. I have kids in this system. I don’t think anybody questions my sincerity.”

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