The Mobile County school board has picked three frontrunners to replace outgoing Superintendent Martha Peek, all of whom boast long careers in public education.
With a decision March 5, the board named Chresal Threadgill, John Gunn and Walter Fenn as the three finalists to take over Alabama’s largest and oldest school system. Peek, who previously announced her retirement, will leave the post by July 1.
In the meantime, the board plans to host public interviews with all three candidates on Monday, March 19, with a final decision announced by March 21. At least one of the candidates being considered would be promoted from inside the central office.
Chresal Threadgill, the only Mobile native being considered for the position, resigned as the superintendent of Elba City Schools, Alabama’s second-smallest school district, in July 2017 to take a position as chief of staff in Peek’s administration.
During his four years in Elba, the city saw an increase in academic performance despite a shrinking student population. Elba recently received an overall “B” for its system grade from the Alabama State Department of Education.
Before that, Threadgill served as an administrative assistant to the superintendent of Troy City Schools, where he oversaw curriculum, instruction and student assessment.
He’s served as principal at Charles Henderson Middle School and as an assistant principal at Greenville Middle School. According to his resume, he holds a bachelor’s from Troy University and received a master’s in education administration at Alabama State University.
Walter Fenn was formerly an assistant superintendent in the Chilton County School System, though he held similar administrative positions throughout the state of Texas for nearly 15 years. He also has a background in business administration and accounting.
A former auditor, Fenn started as a teaching assistant and became a math and science teacher to 5th and 6th graders in Texas. He eventually became principal in multiple school systems in the Lone Star State and served as superintendent of various systems from 2001 until 2011.
After earning a doctorate, Fenn moved to Alabama where he taught instructional leadership courses at the University of Montevallo before taking the assistant superintendent position in Chilton County.
Most recently, Fenn served from 2016 to 2017 as the principal of the Hayes K-8 School in the Birmingham City School System. This year the ALSDE rated the Chilton County School System with an overall “C” average, while assigning a failing grade of 52 to Hayes K-8.
James Gunn is the only out-of-state candidate in the top three. He’s worked in multiple Tennessee school districts as a teacher, assistant principal and principal since the mid ’80s and currently serves as the associate director of schools for the Lawrence County School System in Tennessee.
While Tennessee is still in the process of developing its own letter grading system for school districts, Lawrence County saw an increase in its overall ACT scores after implementing a districtwide ACT plan Gunn helped develop, according to his resume.
Also notable is Gunn’s history of leading alternative school programs. He was a founding principal of the New Directions Academy in the Dickson County School System and was previously asked to testify before the Tennessee House of Representatives as an expert on similar alternative education programs.
The Mobile County Public School System has several alternative programs that serve a range of students, from those requiring a more secluded setting to those being adjudicated through the juvenile criminal justice system.
In addition to the position atop the state’s largest school system, Peek’s replacement could very well be inheriting one of the highest salaries for Alabama public school employees.
According to state records, Peek currently makes $215,332 per year, which is second only to the $264,736 Craig Pouncey receives for leading the Jefferson County School System.
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