KNOXVILLE (WVLT) – Top school administrators from Boston, the Washington DC suburbs, Southwest Florida, and two insiders all want to be Knox County's next school superintendent.
The five finalists were chosen by a search firm from the more than 40 people that applied.
On Thursday, they held their first round of interviews, more than a year after parting ways with former superintendent Dr. Charles Lindsay.
School board officials have already said the process will take some time, and cost a fair amount of money.
“I would love to have a seat at the table, giving me an opportunity to sell Knox County Schools,” said Robert Thomas, one of the finalists.
From students, to teachers, to course offerings, Thomas, who is currently the county’s assistant superintendent, may know the system better than anyone else.
He has spent his entire career in it, with the last 22 years coming in its central office.
On Thursday, he told the school board members that his experience as Principal at the now-closed Rule High School taught him about conquering learning and the challenges of teaching.
“You need to take that child and you need to target, in my opinion, the instruction to what that child needs,” said Thomas. “You set clear expectations and you hold them accountable for their actions.”
To accomplish that, Thomas said you can’t dance around critical needs, such as restructuring the academically struggling Austin-East High School.
“I take ownership in that,” he said. “We can't just wrap it in a different paper and expect it to be something next year, and let it be the same.”
“There are questions for our internal candidates that are more important to me,” said Karen Carson, chairman of the Knox County School Board. “And for those I've never met before, other questions are important.
Board members figure their next superintendent will command around $240,000 a year for the first three or four years, plus benefits and retirement.
“The data shows that as a realistic salary range, not only in the region, but even in the state,” said Carson.
The finalists were required to answer in writing, 20 questions from the school board, as well as submit references.
Knox County’s former superintendent praised Thomas's ethical standards in his letter of recommendation, and his drive to keep students first.
Former County Executive Tommy Schumpert said Thomas would be his pick because of his inside knowledge and people skills.
“We need to be more customer friendly,” said Thomas when the board asked him how to deal with people.
The customers are county students, teachers, parents and the community.
Board members expect the new boss to show results quickly, and will narrow down the list to three finalists after the interviews wrap up on Monday.
Once three have been chosen, there will be a forum held to allow them to meet the public.
Board members want to visit the home district of each finalist over spring break, which falls the week of Saint Patrick’s Day.