Mike Looney, Ed.D., Fulton County Schools’ superintendent finalist, said making the jump from leading a school district with about 40,000 students to one with nearly 100,000 won’t be a factor.
“I’m not concerned because I am smart enough to rely on others for help,” he said. “Regardless of the size of the district, the concerns are often the same. Parents want their children to go to a school where their children feel safe and are academically challenged. From talking to the school board here, I believe everyone shares that common vision.”
The new role for Looney, the superintendent of Williamson County Schools in Franklin, Tennessee, a Nashville suburb, was announced by district leaders during a news conference April 17 at the district’s North Learning Center in Sandy Springs.
Looney will replace Cindy Loe, Ph.D., who has been serving as the district’s interim superintendent since January. She replaced Jeff Rose, Ed.D., who Oct. 25 announced his resignation, effective Dec. 31, for personal reasons.
Fulton district spokesman Brian Noyes said the school board starting in January conducted a nationwide search that resulted in 40 qualified applicants. The board interviewed seven candidates before zeroing in on Looney.
Following the news conference, Looney was scheduled to meet the public, including students, parents and staff members, at the district’s Roswell, Banneker, Westlake and Centennial high schools between April 17 and 19.
According to a news release, as prescribed by Georgia law, the board must give a minimum of 14 days for public input on a finalist for the position of superintendent before he or she is officially hired.
Board President Linda Bryant said Looney was chosen because he possessed the two attributes the board and district stakeholders, in a community survey, asked for: academic experience and leadership skills.
After serving in the Marine Corps, Looney worked as a substitute teacher and then as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. He served as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Alabama’s Montgomery Public Schools before getting his first superintendent job leading the Butler County Schools district in Greenville, Alabama.
Looney was in that role for four years before taking the Williamson County job, where he’s served for nearly 10 years. According to the Tennesseean newspaper’s website, Looney’s contract in January was extended by a year, through Jan. 22, 2023, signaling that district’s confidence in his leadership.
“In 2015 Dr. Looney was named Tennessee Superintendent of the Year by his peers,” Bryant said. “Under his current leadership his district’s ACT scores have risen from an average of 22.7 to 25.4. It has increased participation and pass rates in AP (Advanced Placement), dual enrollment and dual credit courses, and he has also improved the graduation rates. (While in) Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Looney led the district’s efforts to become the fastest growing district in state in the area of reading.”
Looney said the interview process was grueling at times.
“My last series of interviews with them lasted five hours without a break,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “I think they were testing me to determine if I have the grit and the willpower to stay through the interview process. I will say this: you have a very engaged school board here in Fulton County. That’s one of the reasons I’m attracted to coming here. I believe our work is shared work. It can’t be done by a single individual leader. It can’t be done by a few school board members. It takes every person working towards that.”
Looney, who has a wife and four children, said he enjoys skydiving and the outdoors in his spare time.
“Anything outdoors is right up my alley,” he said. “But to be honest with you, skydiving is my passion away from work. It keeps me centered and feeds my need for speed.”
Bryant said Looney is expected to begin his new job July 1, though his start date is still under negotiation and could be earlier. His contract is still being negotiated and details will be released once it’s finalized, she said.