After a national search, the Mobile County Public School System has selected Chresal Threadgill as its next superintendent — making him the first African-American to lead the system in its 182-year history.

Threadgill is a Mobile native and LeFlore High School graduate and was the only one of three top finalists currently employed by MCPSS. A graduate of Troy University with a master’s degree from Alabama State University, Threadgill has experience in most areas of education.

He began his career as a teacher at Greenville High School where he ultimately became principal before taking on an assistant superintendent position with Troy City Schools. Most recently, he served as the superintendent of Elba City Schools — a position he resigned from last summer to become the chief of staff under outgoing MCPSS Superintendent Martha Peek.

Threadgill’s internal knowledge of the school system seemed to serve him well, as he was the only finalist who spoke directly to the board about some key challenges facing MCPSS during finalist interviews last week.

“Nine of our schools are labeled failing. Twenty-three of our schools were graded as Ds and Fs. We are the home of the first charter school and some believe there should be more, and we have a city who believes that separating the school system would be best,” Threadgill told the board. “When I think about these challenges, the word ‘resilient’ resonates in my mind. Resilient means to move quickly from difficulties, and we can overcome these obstacles by selecting leaders who can resiliently move this school district forward.”

With a wife who teaches in the county system and three children enrolled in local schools, Threadgill said he has a “vested interest” in addressing those problems. He also has a family history here, as his his grandfather, W.A. Threadgill, was a longtime principal at Robbins Elementary and his grandmother, Marguerite Threadgill, taught shorthand at Blount High.

Threadgill had been rumored to be a top contender to replace Peek for some time, but board member Reginald Crenshaw ensured a true national search was conducted using a “quantitative and transparent” process beginning with a list of 30 candidates.

Input from employees, parents and community groups was considered when making the decision, but Crenshaw said it was a “stamp of approval” from several MCPSS principals and support from the local business community that let him know Threadgill “had the right stuff.”

“For me, what really set him apart was his ability to address the problems of MCPSS. There are some great spots and some great things going on, but we also have some areas that need to be strengthened,” he said. “Those two things along with his genuine interest in children played a major role in my support.”

Threadgill’s official first day will be July 1 and he said his primary objective between now and then would be to continue to build relationships with teachers, administrators and students. He said one of the first things he plans to do that day is “eat lunch with one of the students.”

“I don’t want it to be about me, this is a great day for students in Mobile County,” he said. “My No. 1 priorities are going to be building relationships, system finances and personnel.”

Threadgill has yet to go into much detail about what changes he’d like to see at MCPSS, but he did say addressing and improving those nine “failing” schools is high on his list. He called those schools — the majority of which are located in Mobile’s inner city — “disadvantaged.”

He added he wants to move away from “trying to correct things just on the surface level,” and said he’d “focus on personnel” to help improve schools.

It’s no secret Threadgill’s new position comes with a lot of internal and external pressure. A majority of the Mobile City Council and Mayor Sandy Stimpson have already expressed public support for conducting a feasibility study into a city school system.

Late last week Councilman Fred Richardson, whose district includes four of the nine schools deemed “failing” this year, spoke to students during a pep rally at Threadgill’s alma mater. He said when the excitement of a new superintendent fades away, Threadgill has “got to perform.”

“He’s going to have to get these schools off the failing lists. That’s the first thing he’s going to have to do,” Richardson said.

However, Threadgill seems to think his career has prepared him for the challenge. He led Elba through a critical time for the 1A system. Losing students and struggling with academics and finances, the city had seen five superintendents in six years when Threadgill took the job.

Since then, the graduation rate has increased from 63 percent to 96 percent and the overall grade for the system has gone from what Threadgill says was a D (the state did not publicly release systemwide grades then to a B in 2018.

“The state superintendent at the time told me, either I turn it around or that city school system would be joining in with the county,” he said. “I was under a lot of pressure, but I assembled an amazing team and together we turned things around.”

Though it wasn’t mentioned by most board members, Threadgill’s hiring as MCPSS’ first African-American superintendent could be significant for a system that’s been accused of not prioritizing predominantly black schools in the recent past.

While MCPSS’ overall student population is roughly 49.6 percent African-American, black students make up nearly 100 percent of Mobile’s inner city schools — some of which have struggled academically in recent years, while others have been permanently closed.

Board member Robert Battles’ district includes many of those schools. Though he said race wasn’t a deciding factor in selecting Threadgill,  he suggested having representation in the schools’ leadership could have a positive impact on African-American students.

“If you see somebody like you, you might want to be like them,” he said. “Mr. Threadgill presented to me what I think is commensurate with not only being a role model but being an example that we too can take charge and do honorable jobs like anyone else.”

Foster said MCPSS will negotiate a contract with Threadgill to solidify details about his salary, benefits and performance measures before Peek’s official retirement at the end of June. She currently earns $215,332 a year — the second highest superintendent’s salary in the state.