Cobb schools need leader who’s ‘vested in the community’
by JoEllen Smith
February 12, 2014 04:36 PM | 3338 views | 6 6 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When it rains it pours. In the midst of a scandal and possible lawsuit at the Cobb County School District, the board has to search for a new superintendent.

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 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

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Michelle Sollicito
February 23, 2014
Governor of Georgia - sorry - not Atlanta!!! ;-)
Michelle Sollicito
February 23, 2014
Not sure why my comment did not appear here. I do not think there is any need for personal attacks on JoEllen. She works fearlessly for Education in this area. I do not always agree on her ideas but she is always respectful and she has the best interests of Education in mind.

I think her mention of Ragsdale is about MY ignorance, not hers. I suggested Ragsdale as a temp superintendent replacement, unaware that he did not have the Educational qualifications. So I think she simply mentioned him because I suggested him.

I had assumed, wrongly, that Ragsdale had the educational qualifications, because I thought to be in his position he would also need those qualifications but apparently not. Sorry - my bad.

If we were really simply looking for a CEO of a $1bn enterprise, I would have wanted Scott Sweeney because I think he is extremely competent at that side of things - managing a huge budget, really looking at the figures objectively and so on, but I was aware that Scott would not have the Educational qualifications for this position so I did not suggest him. If I was trying to be a "king maker" for anyone, it would be Scott Sweeney - I personally think he is someone who could be Governor of Atlanta if he wanted to be. I think he is amazing, extremely competent and very good with facts and figures. Very good at taking the emotions out of these things. Although he has not decided whether he will run again for CCSD board as yet (I understand?) I anticipate that at some point in his near future he will find a higher calling because of his excellence, and whatever that calling is, I will support him 100%.
February 14, 2014
Obviously Ms. Smith would like to play the role of king maker and has many suggestions about the next Super. First, it does not sound like she knows that Ragsdale is not qualified to be the superintendent or even for that matter a classroom teacher. State law requires a degree in education with another certificate in leadership - neither Ragsdale has. The same is also true of Tippins. I guess she forgot that Alice said she needed to retire in order to take care of her family. The only legitimate name was Scamihorn.
February 18, 2014
ms Smith needs to take her perm and go back to the 80's
Are You Kidding Me
February 12, 2014
The only thing Chris Ragsdale knows how to operate is a jar of hair gel. The only thing he knows how to communicate is Duck Dynasty jokes about his family. Who in their right mind would ever think he can run a school system?
February 14, 2014
LOL! Exactly. What does a computer guy know about education and those needs?
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