I have been following the online blogs on the MDJ articles, influential Facebook groups and have posted a query on my own Facebook page. I’ve also talked to dozens of friends and acquaintances who are active in Cobb education.
There are many names being put forth for possible superintendent. One thing is certain: Everyone wants a local candidate. I recently attended the “Leaders and Legends Ball,” which honored long-time supporters of our school system. Former Superintendent Kermit Keenum was a keynote speaker. He brought the room to thunderous applause when he said, “Superintendents are like tomatoes, the best ones are home grown.” Bravo!
Here are the names I’ve read and heard most often put forward for the position: Area Assistant Superintendents Cheryl Hungerford and Alice Stouder, Deputy Superintendent Operational Support Chris Ragsdale, School Board Member Randy Scamihorn, former administrator James Wilson, Sen. Lindsey Tippins and Marietta School Superintendent Emily Lembeck (although she says she wants to stay right where she is, and Marietta would be lucky if she did). I look forward to reading the online posts for this column at www.mdjonline.com to see everyone’s opinions.
There are obviously a number of very competent candidates in Cobb County. We desperately need someone who is vested in our county and our schools, who lives here and has lived here a while and whose heart is with the teachers and students.
However, we also need someone with a spine. Someone who lives by the credo, “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.” If we don’t get a leader who will stand up to forces who would to weaken our schools and further deflate their budget, we might be irreparably sunk.
In addition a scalpel must be taken to the central administration, and system, budget. Not a hatchet but a scalpel. There should be no sacred cows, due either to cronyism or the perception “We’ve just always done it that way.” There may even be entire departments that are found irrelevant or which need to be combined.
Remember, we are not just searching for an educator or administrator, we are searching for the CEO of a nearly $1 billion organization.
The one benefit an outsider has is to take a fresh look at the system’s management and budget and question why things are, how they are and implement out-of the-box solutions. Insider ties often bind hands when bold action is what is needed. We need someone local, but brave and not entrenched. I know he or she is out there.
In the meantime, it would be wise to appoint a senior administrator as interim superintendent so the board can take its time while things continue to operate. I believe I’m reflecting the common sentiment in the county.
The board has already suggested a search committee. I hope that, included on this committee will be representation for parents of current students. They are active in the schools on a regular basis. There should definitely be a representative from south Cobb who understands the serious challenges those schools are facing and what is needed from administration, and another from east Cobb, who can put on the hat of our highest performing schools.
We are such an incredibly diverse school system.
There should also be at least one recently retired teacher (preferably more) and one or more retired principals, all with no fear of speaking their minds.
At the event I attended, there were many longtime Cobb residents, rich in knowledge and experience, with a long history of strongly supporting our school system. One comment I heard repeatedly is that they’re deeply worried about the current state of the Cobb County schools because, decades ago, DeKalb County was the premier school system in Georgia, the one to be emulated. Look at it now.
This next hire will be absolutely crucial.
JoEllen Smith, a small business owner, is on the steering committees of multiple county-wide and state-wide education advocacy groups. She is also on the county task force of a fiscally conservative political advocacy group. She can be found at www.facebook.com/joellen.smith.ga.