Cleveland school board interviews first candidate for city system director post

LARRY C. BOWERS Banner Staff Writer
Posted 5/5/16

The Cleveland Board of Education had a successful first day Wednesday in the interview process of finding a new director of schools.

Dr. John Ash, principal of Rutherford County’s Central …

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Cleveland school board interviews first candidate for city system director post

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The Cleveland Board of Education had a successful first day Wednesday in the interview process of finding a new director of schools.

Dr. John Ash, principal of Rutherford County’s Central Magnet School (Murfreesboro), spent about 14 hours in Cleveland with community and business leaders, followed by sessions with school administrators, faculty and a two-hour stint with the school board.

Ash appeared to be well received during the daylong interview process, the first of five such interviews scheduled with finalists selected by the Tennessee School Board Association.

School board Chair Dawn Robinson was among board members making positive comments.

“I’m impressed with the quality of this candidate,” she said. “If they are all like this, we’re going to have a difficult choice.”

Fellow board member Peggy Pesterfield added to Robinson’s enthusiasm. “He was very open,” she said.

Other board members also appeared pleased with their first interview candidate, as they said the Murfreesboro educator was personable, informative, and comfortable during the evening interview sessions.

“It’s been a very interesting day,” said Ash during a late-afternoon break. “I’ve learned a lot about Cleveland.”

He met the board for breakfast, visited the central office and school system, toured the community with a Realtor, had lunch with more than a dozen business leaders, and met with the school system’s principals.

He closed out his day in Cleveland by meeting with a number of faculty members at Mayfield Elementary, then discussed various education issues, strategies and philosophy for two hours with the school board. The group ended the day with an evening meal.

The same process will greet the other finalists.

Despite the success of Wednesday’s initial interview, the board eliminated one of five candidates selected by a Tennessee School Board Association search committee.

The TSBA notified board members that finalist Dr. Daniel Brigman is negotiating with the Decatur (Alabama) School System concerning a position there. With this information in hand, the Cleveland board removed him from their list of finalists.

This leaves four candidates for the vacant director’s post, although the board could add one (or more) of the original applicants to the list.

Board member Charlie Cogdill says he has one person he would like to see the board interview, and can do that at a called board meeting next Thursday, following the fourth interview.

At least three other board members (making a majority of four) would have to agree with Cogdill for the addition.

Dr. Sharon Harper, former director of research and evaluation for Bradley County Schools and a former principal at North Lee Elementary, will be interviewed today.

Harper is currently the executive director of Southeast Core for the Tennessee Department of Education.

Monday’s interview will be with Dr. Russell Dyer, principal of Collierville High School in Shelby County. The interview session will conclude Tuesday with Dr. Elizabeth Alves, assistant superintendent and chief academic officer for Knox County Schools.

Ash was the featured attraction for Wednesday’s interview, and was very forthcoming in his discussions.

“I am what I am,” he said at Mayfield School. “If anyone doesn’t like me, I can’t do anything about that.”

Ash said the only weakness he can perceive in his resume is that he has not spent time in a central office.

He said he was brought to Central Magnet School more than a year before the school opened, and participated in the research, design and implementation of that school.

“We’re a choice school, and you don’t have to come there,” he added. “We’ve grown to more than 1,000 applicants each year.”

In addition to his educational knowledge, strategies, and philosophies, Ash was asked about his personal life and family, based on the fact Cleveland’s former director was fired due to conduct unbecoming a director of schools.

Ash said he and his wife have been married for 26 years, and dated before that. They have raised two children who are finishing college.

“I feel I am bullet-proof in that respect,” he said, adding that he understood the reason for the question.

Ash emphasized he and his wife would be moving to Cleveland as quick as possible, if he is offered and accepts the job.

He emphasized he has a passion for education, teaching kids, and watching them go on to become contributing members of society. Ash said he enjoys being involved in all the school system’s activities and the community.

During the coming week, school board members will be compiling notes on the four finalists, and anyone who might be added.

They will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, May 12, with plans to narrow the field.

Once a decision has been reached by the board, board members will enter into negotiations with their selection.

It is hoped a new director can be hired by the first of June, and come on board for the start of the 2016-17 school year July 1.

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