OUR VIEW: Analyzing the search for a new superintendent

Published 9:30 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

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Last week, Troup County School System Superintendent Brian Shumate announced he was going to retire at the end of June. 

Board Chair Brandon Brooks noted at the school board meeting that they were going to keep the superintendent busy until his retirement date, as they had plenty ahead of them, and even jokingly apologized to Shumate’s wife, Dana, for how much he’d be working. 

The point Brooks was making was clear — while you’re here, we’re going to keep moving this school system forward. It’s the right frame of mind to have. 

But these next four months are going to go by quickly, and the school system has to prepare for its post-Shumate future. 

That means developing the parameters of the search for the next superintendent quickly.

In 2019, when Shumate was hired, the Troup County School Board hired an outside agency, McPherson & Jacobson, to lead a nationwide search. Ultimately, they ended up with finalists that were living in Alabama, Florida and Oregon, and they hired Shumate from Medford, Oregon.

The total length of that search, from the day former Superintendent Cole Pugh resigned to the day Shumate officially accepted the job, was 192 days. With Shumate needing to move from Oregon, TCSS actually went almost a full calendar year — 322 days — with interim Superintendent Roy Nichols running the show. 

If it took 192 days to find a new superintendent from the time Shumate made his announcement on Feb. 2, that would put us in mid-August, right as the new school year starts. 

So, while we certainly would never say TCSS should rush its search, the school district must move efficiently to find the right candidate so that it’s not stuck in limbo. 

As for what to look for, many argued then, and have argued now, that a local should be hired, as that person would have more at stake in a community they grew up in and wouldn’t be as likely to leave after a few years. 

However, we’re in favor of a national search. If a local candidate is the best option after compiling all the resumes and completing interviews, then hire them. 

When the superintendent job was posted in 2018, TCSS increased the salary for the position to drive more interest. There are some in this community who argue paying a superintendent more than $200,000 a year is a waste of taxpayer money.

While we certainly believe the school system should use its money wisely, we also believe a great superintendent, one that can elevate the school system, would be well worth that type of salary. 

Would we rather pay a little less, save more and have a superintendent who isn’t as qualified? Or pay a little more and see the results?

One thing TCSS did really well during the previous search was to get stakeholder input. Listening sessions were held with business leaders, political leaders, parents, classified staff, teachers, community members, administrative staff and the board to gather community feedback before a hire was made.

We expect that will happen again, as it’s necessary to hear from the community throughout this process.

Superintendent searches are often long, exhausting processes. The goal for TCSS is to find the right person so that it’ll be many, many years before having to do it again.