The Mobile County Board of School Commissioners held face-to-face interviews with the three top candidates for its soon-to-be-vacated superintendent Monday morning.
John Gunn, Walter Fenn and Chresal Threadgill and were the three finalists from a list of 40 candidates that applied for the job, which will open in July when current Superintendent Martha Peek retires after four decades in public education.
In the interviews, which the school system streamed live on several platforms, each candidate was asked the same 10 questions, with a few exceptions. The board will make a final decision on Wednesday, March 21.
Threadgill is the current chief of staff for the Mobile County Public School System and the only internal candidate being considered for the position. A Mobile native, he returned to MCPSS in 2017 after serving as superintendent of Elba City Schools.
He listed the turnaround there as one of his greatest accomplishments.
“I was the sixth superintendent in five years … (the system) had a hard time with finance and academics … Morale was low,” he said. “I assembled a team and we were able to turn things around.”
Some of that turmoil was caused by the bribery conviction of Terry Spicer, a former state representative who left the legislature to take the helm of Elba City Schools only be reassigned and then terminated upon his conviction.
Threadgill said his administration built up about $1.2 million in reserves while helping to improve the schools’ overall grade from a “D to a B.” The graduation rate also increased from 63 percent to 97 percent during his tenure at the southeast Alabama school district.
Asked about “failing” schools in Mobile County, Threadgill said MCPSS would need to change its mindset. That involves, among other things, a “tough” conversation about “equity versus equality,” he said.
“We need to look at what each school needs resource-wise to make a difference,” he told commissioners Monday morning.
Fenn, who has a PhD in educational leadership and currently teaches sixth grade math in Montgomery, said the system should help students fill in achievement gaps between certain student demographics.
He said MCPSS shouldn’t assume every student has the same grasp on classroom material.
“We need to provide support in schools,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m in Montgomery because there are a number of schools in need of support.” |
Prior to teaching in Montgomery, Fenn taught in the Birmingham City School System and was an assistant superintendent in Chilton County. He was also a superintendent in several school systems throughout the state of Texas and taught at the University of Montevallo for four years.
“I missed being where the action was,” he said. “I missed being in a school district.”
Gunn, who also has a PhD, said one of his biggest accomplishments was improving the math and reading scores as principal at Mount Pleasant High School in Tennessee.
As the superintendent of Lawrence County Schools in Tennessee, Gunn said he worked to improve ACT scores across the district and helped to create the system’s first alternative school, which he said has become a model for others throughout the Volunteer State.
If hired as superintendent of MCPSS, Gunn said he’d like to focus on early literacy, the continued improvement of the county’s graduation rate, the development of an international baccalaureate program and school safety.
When asked by Commissioner Robert Battles if he supported the idea of arming teachers as a safety mechanism, Gunn said that would have to be studied, though he noted that many law enforcement and advocacy groups have spoken out against such proposals.
“I wouldn’t venture to answer that until we’ve studied it,” he said.
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