School chief choices down to 3

Loudon board nears end of consultant-guided selection process for role

Hugh G. Willett

LOUDON - The Loudon County Board of Education on Saturday narrowed its list of candidates for the position of director of schools to three professional educators, all with ties to East Tennessee.

Selected from five finalists were: Wayne Honeycutt, formerly an assistant superintendent in Roane County; Robert Lovingood, formerly superintendent in Monroe County; and Deborah Raper, a Lenoir City native who most recently served as director of federal projects and curriculum director for the Stupski Foundation.

The five finalists were selected by Wayne Qualls, a consultant hired by the county to help manage the selection process. A sixth candidate, Ken Cline, a superintendent in Archibald, Ohio, withdrew.

Each candidate was asked a series of 20 questions and scored by the board members on a scale of one to five for a total possible score of 100 points.

The candidates with the top three scores were selected as finalists and will face another round of questions during interviews scheduled for April 26.

"I'm glad Loudon County decided to go this way," said Gary Ubben, professor of educational administrative and policy studies at the University of Tennessee.

Using a scoring system developed by a consultant such as Qualls provides an objective method of reaching a consensus, said Ubben, a Loudon County resident.

The format was designed to take the politics out of the process and create a level playing field, Qualls said.

"I've done several of these searches, and I can say that I haven't seen a group more dedicated or more serious than this board," Qualls said.

Board Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. described the process as the most important decision the board has ever had to make.

"This is a very serious decision," agreed board member Larry Bass, whose constituents in the Greenback community have been lobbying the school board for a new school for more than three years.

Many of the questions submitted to the candidates directly reflected challenges facing the county, including budget shortfalls, long-range planning of building programs and educational support for students who speak English as a second language.

Asked about his experience with the budget process, Honeycutt said he favors a zero-based budget methodology: "First, we look at what we need, then we look at what we can afford."

Honeycutt also added that keeping the lines of communication open with the county commission is important in securing funding.

"Every year is the tightest budget year ever," Raper said. "Whether its $15 million or $3 billion, you're never going to have enough."

Raper said she has been successful in convincing citizens and groups such as the county commission to invest in education projects by providing details and guarantees that the money will be used for the stated purpose.

Long-range planning is necessary to manage the budget process, Lovingood said. He is also in favor of improving maintenance of the schools to ensure that capital investments in new buildings are protected.

All three candidates said they support the investment in resources for ESL students.

Lovingood said he has experience dealing with ESL in his current position as superintendent in Christian County, Ky., where 40 percent of the kindergarten to eighth-grade students are limited in their English skills.

"They are a part of the community," he said. "You have to spend the extra resources to make them successful."

Raper said she was willing to go as far as conducting PTA meetings in two languages if that's what it takes to get parents of ESL children involved in the schools.

"You have to have an appreciation for both cultures," she said.

Honeycutt said one of the biggest challenges he has faced regarding ESL is the difficulty finding qualified teachers.

Board members also questioned the candidates about their opinions on pre-kindergarten programs.

Pre-K programs are proven to increase performance among grade school children and are not just a babysitting service, Honeycutt said.

In Georgia, pre-K is funded across the state, said Raper, who worked as director of elementary curriculum in Cobb County.

"Suddenly kindergarten is like first grade," she said. "I'm glad there has been a national push for pre-K programs."

The three candidates will meet and greet teachers and principals in the central office boardroom on April 25. Later that evening, from 6-9 p.m., the candidates will meet and greet citizens at First Baptist Church Lenoir City.

Final interviews will be conducted in a Q&A session to be held in the county annex from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on April 26. A final decision is expected to be made sometime in May.

The new director will replace retiring director Edward Headlee. After 34 years on the job, Headlee is the longest-serving county schools director in Tennessee, Qualls said.