The Baldwin County Board of Education held public interviews for candidates to replace former Superintendent Robbie Owen last week. James Stevens and Reginald Eggleston faced the board July 29, while Eddie Tyler, John Green and Larry DiChiara were interviewed July 30.
Owen resigned earlier this summer to return to his previous job as principal at Rockwell Elementary, and the board named Hope Zeanah as interim superintendent. Baldwin County schools spokesman Terry Wilhite said the board hopes to have a permanent replacement in place by the end of August, but with school back in session statewide this month, scheduling could push selection back.
Following the interviews, board members are working with the board’s legal counsel to rank the candidates, then will decide which two or three will be considered finalists. At that point, the board will schedule public “meet and greet” events with the finalists at a date to be determined.
• Dr. James W. “Kip” Stevens is head of school at Crisp Academy in Cordele, Georgia. He said the Baldwin County system, board and community need to “get on the same page” to move forward after the failed tax referendum earlier this year. “Right now there is some division in the community, but if a hurricane hit tomorrow I know y’all would all get right to work,” he said.
Stevens said overcrowding is an issue the system must tackle, but it is a sign people believe the system is a good place for their children. “There’s a reason that you have overcrowding, and that’s because people want to bring their kids here,” he said. “I want to bring my kids here, my wife wants to bring our kids here.”
One idea Stevens described is to create councils in each feeder pattern with a representative who will report to the superintendent and the board. Stevens said the councils would help each feeder pattern more adequately report individual concerns and needs at board meetings. He also said he supports the creation of special tax districts, which would create additional funding in municipalities that choose to provide more funding to their feeder patterns.
• Dr. Reginald Eggleston is the assistant superintendent for kindergarten through 12th grade in the Mobile County Public School System. A U.S. Army reservist, Eggleston said he will be direct and honest with employees, giving them concise information so they know his expectations up front.
“I think in Mobile we are educators who are concerned about doing the right thing for young people, just like you are,” Eggleston said. “If I am elected as your superintendent, my passion will be to help the students and try to create opportunities for them, galvanize the support from the community, to be visible and approachable and meet people where they are. I will give people an opportunity to feel comfortable.”
On technology in the classroom, Eggleston said, “Technology is only a tool. Nothing takes the place of a teacher, but it can be a tool teachers use to elaborate on content or help the students understand information.”
• Carl “Eddie” Tyler is superintendent of Eufaula City Schools and a former teacher, coach, principal and assistant superintendent in Baldwin County. Tyler told the board he would lead by example and try to be an approachable and accessible superintendent.
On the system’s failed March 31 referendum, Tyler said he believed the school system’s “heart” was in the right place, but before the vote, signals were inadvertently sent that the environment was not right for a tax hike. He said the county had done well with what it had before and the system might have asked for too much in raising ad valorem taxes by 8 mills.
A former coach, Tyler said extracurricular activities and academics can be a “great marriage” but academics should be the system’s first priority.
“I want our athletics programs, our band, our art and music to be marquee programs,” Tyler said. “Athletics has a place at the table, but it has to know its place.”
• Dr. John Green is an independent education consultant in Suwanee, Georgia, and the former superintendent of Jackson County Schools in Jefferson, Georgia. He said he appreciates how the system is composed of seven feeder patterns with different characteristics.
“You’ve bought in to this idea that, even though it is a large county, we want to make the educational experience as small and as meaningful and community based as possible,” Green said.
Board member Tony Myrick asked Green what attracted him to apply for the job and whether he would use it as a stepping stone to another position.
“I’ve been blessed with a phenomenal career and this is a final stop,” Green said. “I want to be here. This is a place where, geographically and economically, people want to be.”
Green said making sure the community understands what the superintendent is trying to do is key in getting them on board with capital plans.
“There is nothing that we will do that we aren’t willing to be transparent about and discuss in the open,” Green said.
• Dr. Larry DiChiara, a Foley High School graduate, is president of SOY Education Associates and a former chief administrative officer for the Alabama State Department of Education in the Selma City School system. Responding to a question from board member David Tarwater, DiChiara said technology, while a tool to be used to further educational goals, is somewhat “overrated.”
“I’ve never seen a computer teach a kid how to read,” he said.
However, he said some children have so much technology at home it makes teaching them with textbooks difficult.
“Technology has a place, but it is just a tool that helps make things happen faster and gives them more access to information.”
DiChiara said the reputation of Baldwin County schools outside the county is better than it is inside the county.
“When other school officials talk about Baldwin County, it is always complimentary,” he said. On the referendum, DiChiara said it is difficult to win when one side “demonizes” the school district.
“They win the battle, but the school district loses the war.”
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