EDITORIAL: How about a grassroots hiring for Lee County?

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Now that Lee County Schools Supt. Jeff Moss’ departure to a school district in South Carolina seems to have been finalized and formalized, the county’s board of education will turn its attention to finding a replacement. The man or woman filling the role will be more than just the CEO of a large school system. This person will have the job of leading and managing our public schools and the system’s 600-plus teachers, nearly 10,000 students and another 600 administrative and staff members in a complex environment where so many factors — including available dollars to do the job, a free/reduced lunch rate of 63 percent, and a diverse student population, among other challenges — are seemingly lined up in opposition.

Finding just the right word to describe Lee County’s track record in hiring school superintendents is, in itself, an arduous — and somewhat thorny — proposition. Let’s just say the results have decidedly been mixed over the years, particularly with the number of superintendents hired who, after a brief time, find a door out of the system or have it shown to them.

That doesn’t mean quality, qualified candidates haven’t taken the job. It’s more an indication of that fact that neither the school board nor the community have consistently rallied behind any (or at least many) of our recent superintendents. You might chalk that up to discord that has existed within the board of education for so long (hey, at least we’re not Wake County), or the natural animosity that tends to fester within the complex relationships among elected boards, their hires and the sky-high expectations communities have of their schools, their teachers and their supers. Regardless of what’s occurred in the past, it’s a given: whomever’s hired will get low marks in someone’s book.

In his tenure here, Dr. Moss certainly hasn’t been spared. More than any superintendent in recent memory, his relationship with his board and the community has epitomized the definition of “love/hate.” He’s been among the most revered — and reviled — leaders in Lee County. But putting that aside, it’s impossible to not to marvel at the lengthy list of accomplishments for which he’s been responsible. Despite some missteps and miscues on the board and in the central office over on Gordon Street, Lee County Schools have been gaining traction and seeing measurable improvement in key areas since Dr. Moss assumed the job. Credit him for spearheading positive and creative changes and strong results.

So why not keep a good thing going?

The Lee County Board of Education may soon be launching a nationwide search for a new leader, but we hope they employ a more grassroots approach and consider hiring from within.

Dr. Andy Bryan, LCS’ associate superintendent for curriculum and public instruction, is a veteran of our system and possesses (in our minds, at least) what few prior superintendents had: the rare ability to get along with everyone. More importantly, Dr. Bryan was a finalist for the job four years ago and has been groomed for the position by Dr. Moss himself, and he knows the players (the staff, the school board and the county’s board of commissioners) and the playbook. Another candidate the board should consider is Dr. Carol Chappell, the director of K-5 instruction. Although she’s a subordinate to Dr. Bryan, she also previously earned consideration for the superintendent post and has strong ties to the community.

Aside from saving the school system a significant amount of money (bypassing the $30,000 or $40,000 needed to hire a search firm, plus the difference in compensation — remember, Dr. Moss came having prior experience as a superintendent, and has been one of the state’s highest paid), a local hire would also save time. Both Bryan and Chappell are up to speed on what’s going on within Lee County.

In addition, strong consideration for Dr. Bryan and Dr. Chappell will no doubt encourage other teachers and staff who’d like to move up — and not out of — Lee County.

Looking outside the county isn’t a bad thing — but what could be better than finding a homegrown solution?