Wednesday, September 2, 2009

WCS Board goes with Looney

The Williamson County School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to offer Michael Looney the position of Director of Schools at a base salary of $168,000. Contract negotiations will now begin with Looney, currently the Butler County School District Superintendent. The board chose Looney over Dennis Dearden.

According to the Greenville Advocate's online edition, Looney informed the Butler County Board of Education President late Wednesday night that he intends to accept the offer in Williamson County.

Now that Looney is the choice of the School Board, we'll have to take a look and see just how much this transition from Dr. Rebecca Sharber to Interim Director Dr. David Heath to Michael Looney cost the Williamson County taxpayers. Hopefully the expense will prove to be worthwhile in the coming months and years. And hopefully the WCS Board learned some valuable lessons from this lengthy search. Congratulations, Michael Looney. And welcome to Williamson County.

Signs Point to Looney as New Director of Schools

When the Williamson County School Board convenes tonight at 8pm to (hopefully) bring the eight-month search for a new Director of Schools to a close, it's likely that former Marine Michael Looney will be offered the job over Dennis Dearden.

Looney, now in his fifth year as Butler County School Superintendent in Alabama, has placed first in two non-binding matrix evaluations conducted by the WCS Board in recent weeks. Looney was an overwhelming choice when considered against the other four semi-finalists. In that head-to-head comparison, Looney earned 44 points by being ranked above each of the other four candidates by eight of the 12 board members. Dearden earned 28 points while being ranked above each of the other four candidates by only two board members.

According to WCS Board Chair Pat Anderson (who ranked Interim Director Dr. David Heath above each of the other four candidates on the first matrix), the matrix results were much closer between Looney and Dearden after the second round of interviews. Those results, however, were not made public.

Interestingly, Board Member Terry Leve announced on his website that while he had ranked Dearden first on the initial matrix (one of the two board members to do so), he has since moved Looney into the top position after the second round of interviews.

Based on the foregoing, and the previous interview, my original ranking of 1) Dearden, 2) Looney and 3) Carroll, is now 1) Looney, 2) Dearden and 3) Carroll. I think it’s close. I think they all have strengths. I know they are different. Mr. Looney is a high energy motivator who immediately connected with staff and students during his tour of schools. It is my impression that he came in first with both staff and students, while I perceive that Dr. Carroll came in second with students, and Mr. Dearden came in second with staff.

The NBC affiliate in Montgomery, Alabama, WSFA Channel 12, reported on August 28 in a story by Bryan Henry that Looney's current salary of $121,000 to oversee 4,000 students spread across eight schools would likely increase by $60,000 if he's offered the task of handling 30,000 students and 37 schools in Williamson County.

Henry's story, filed the day after WCS Board members Barry Watkins and Susan Graham made a site-visit to Butler County, also notes that the average SAT score in Butler County (where students are not required to take the test) is 18.2. In Williamson County in 2008, the observed ACT composite was 22.77. (Henry's story incorrectly lists the Williamson County average score as 24 -- which is the district's current goal).

Tonight's 8pm meeting is open to the public. The decision the 12-member board makes will impact not only the parents and students of Williamson County, but every resident. Here's hoping everyone gets behind the ultimate choice once it's made.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WCS Board Members Making "Site Visit" to Alabama

Two members of the Williamson County School Board will visit Alabama's Butler County School District Thursday, August 27, to get feedback from individuals there regarding the possibility of Michael Looney becoming Williamson County's next Director of Schools.

According to a story by Kevin Pearcey in Tuesday's Greenville Advocate, a third Williamson County School Board member will check Looney's references via telephone in preparation for a meeting next Wednesday, September 2, during which the board is expected to choose between Looney and Dennis Dearden. Board members will make a similar visit to Dearden's most recent district in Arizona, and check his references as well.

During a non-binding matrix evaluation during a meeting this past Monday night, Looney received the most support, with Dearden placing second. Dr. Barry Carroll was eliminated from consideration for the post during the meeting. Several board members expressed an interest in site visits and reviewing the references already collected and verified by search firm Ray & Associates.

The first three comments about the story on the Greenville Advocate's website offer a bit of insight into at least how some locals there view Looney's possible departure for Tennessee.

Posted by BLOKE1 (anonymous) on August 26, 2009 at 8:49 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Everybody cross your fingers....he might be gone??? ;-)

Posted by talks2much (anonymous) on August 26, 2009 at 9:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Amen!! Let's all be on our best behavior and having glowing comments about him. Maybe they'll see they can't live without him!!!

Posted by jmcoleman (anonymous) on August 26, 2009 at 9:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

These kinds of trips remind me of the movie Funny Farm. What do the TN people expect? If the Butler County people want to keep him, then will they speak glowingly about him? I don't know understand what the I would be looking for if I were on the search committee.

Hopefully our School Board representatives will search out Looney's supporters as well as some detractors (they can be found on the Advocate's website!) as they attempt to gain a more complete picture of the man who seems to be the front-runner to become the next Director of Williamson County Schools. Once the contract is signed, sealed, and delivered it will be time to move forward with the new director. The time for due diligence is now -- anything less is unacceptable.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WCS Director Interviews: Round Two Schedule

The three finalists for Director of Schools in Williamson County will each spend a day next week touring the district, visiting schools, and participating in a second interview with the School Board. The public is invited to a morning reception all three days (August 18, 19, and 20) from 8:15am until 9:15am in the Carolyn Campbell Conference Room at the Central Office. In addition, the evening interviews from 6:30pm until 8:30pm each night in the same location are also open to the public.

Michael Looney, current Superintendent of Butler County School District in Alabama, will visit on Tuesday, August 18, 2009. Looney received the highest number of "points" when the School Board completed a matrix system comparing the candidates following the first round of interviews.

Dr. Barry Carroll, current Superintendent of Limestone County Schools in Alabama, will visit on Wednesday, August 19, 2009. Carroll received the third highest number of "points" on the matrix, behind both Looney and Dennis Dearden.

Dennis Dearden, a Senior VP for the Partnership for Excellence, will visit on Thursday, August 20, 2009. Dearden, who received the second-highest "point" total on the matrix, is a former assistant superintendent from Fairfax County Schools in Virginia, and most recently served as Superintendent of Marana Unified School District in Arizona.

The daily candidate schedule is as follows:

8:15-9:15am - Public Reception
Carolyn Campbell Room

9:15-10:15am - Meet with Senior Staff
Carolyn Campbell Room

11:00-11:40am - Tour elementary school
Chapman’s Retreat

12:00-1:15pm - Tour middle school & lunch with students
Page Middle

1:45-2:30pm - Tour high school
Ravenwood High

2:30-3:45pm - Tour district

4-5:30pm - Return to hotel

5:30pm - Travel to dinner

5:45pm - Dinner with School Board
Technology Conference Room

6:30-8:30pm - Public Interview with School Board
Carolyn Campbell Room

Let the School Board members hear your thoughts about each of the candidates. You can find their email addresses here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Dearden Always Looking for the Next Best Thing?

Dennis Dearden, one of three current finalists for the Williamson County Director of Schools position, was an applicant for a superintendent's position in Florida the SAME DAY his resignation became effective in Arizona in 2008.

Dearden's letter of interest for the Pinellas County School District in Florida is dated June 30, 2008 -- the same day his resignation from Marana Unified School District in Arizona for "personal reasons" took effect.

Dearden's letters of recommendation for the position in Florida are glowing, naturally. The question that must be pondered is how does one go from stepping down to focus on spending time with family, to applying for an identical job across the country on the same day? Especially when Dearden stated in an April 3, 2008 Arizona Daily Star article that he had no immediate plans for other employment.

Dearden is also quoted in the Daily Star with the following:
"I feel strongly that I must devote my full attention to my most important job in life - being a dad to my three children."
Although Dearden was not chosen as a finalist from the 36 Florida applicants, Williamson County becomes at least the third superintendent position Dearden has applied for in the year since he resigned in Arizona -- behind Pinellas County (June 2008) and Washoe County Schools in Nevada (June 2009).

Williamson County doesn't deserve to be used as a "stepping stone" -- we deserve and must demand commitment from the person handed the role of Director in the top district in Tennessee. Perhaps Mr. Dearden resolved his personal reasons for resignation quickly and decided he could balance parenting with the demanding duties of a Superintendent. The Daily Star reported that one of Dearden's sons had just returned from a 16-month tour in Iraq around the time of his resignation. The bottom line is that the School Board has the responsibility to determine to the best of their ability the motives of all three remaining candidates before making this important decision for our community.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Did Dearden's Administration "Ignore" Arizona parents?

Dennis Dearden, one of three finalists for the Williamson County Schools Director position, wrote a special column dated September 24, 2008, for The Explorer newspaper in Marana, Arizona. Entitled "How to Make a Difference in K-12", the column promotes a public "community conversation" presented in conjunction with the Tucson Chamber of Commerce.

In the column, Dearden writes:
As a former superintendent, I can think of nothing more important than to find a way for us to attract, support and retain the very best teachers for all Tucson’s children. As stated in a recent McKinsey and Company report, “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”

I believe that recruiting and retaining high quality teachers is essential to improving the quality of education in Southern Arizona, but other aspects such as creating professional development opportunities for educators and finding ways to build quality schools and providing more educational resources are also essential.

I trust that you agree that the quality of the classroom teacher has a tremendous impact on student success.
Two comments (same reader, perhaps?) in the online edition of The Explorer were made in response to Dearden's column. The reader comments are relevant because Dearden, Senior VP of the Partnership for Excellence at the time of authoring the column, was superintendent of Marana's school system for three years from 2005 until June 30, 2008.

The two comments posted are:

Marana USD parent wrote on Sep 26, 2008 1:40 AM:

" This is pretty amusing considering that under his watch Marana USD totally ignored the parents on the East side of I10 within the district, refused to do anything about the overcrowding in the schools, and then shoved a useless boundary change down the throats of the parents while still allowing Amphi students to overcrowd our schools. What a hypocrite.

There is no communication between the MUSD administration and the parents of the students they serve. You certainly never see the high and mighty School District Board members at any events on the East side of I10.

There is No support from the Marana Town Council for the schools on the East side of I10, even though 1/2 the kids are residents of the Town.

All of the legislative bodies need to step up and address the disparity in funds, services and facilities for those living on the West side of I10 versus the East side, or are we just on the wrong side of the tracks for them to really give a damn? Then again, if you look at those who run the Town and the School Board, they all reside on the West side of I10, so I guess they are all scratching each others backis. "

Ma wrote on Sep 26, 2008 1:44 AM:

" Obviously they don't want significant parent input, as they schedule it smack dab in the middle of a workweek. Clue people - most of us have to work, unless of course, the government agencies and public sector businesses are giving paid time off for us all to attend this?

Yeah, that's what I thought. "

Maybe the comments are just a disgruntled parent venting about Dearden's leadership while at Marana. You can't please all of the people all of the time in any district. But given the accusations that parents were "totally ignored" and that there was "no communication" between administration and parents, our School Board members need to do due diligence while considering Dearden to ensure that this is merely an isolated opinion and not something more widespread.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Looney, Dearden, and Carroll Finalists for WCS Director

Michael Looney, Dennis Dearden, and Dr. Barry Carroll are the three finalists chosen by the Williamson County School Board to be invited back for a second interview. Eliminated from consideration during the special board meeting were Interim Director Dr. David Heath and James Wilson of Georgia. The three finalists will be invited to schedule tours and interviews August 18-20.

The Board members used a matrix evaluation form provided by search firm Ray & Associates to compare the candidates head-to-head (Candidate 1 to Candidate 2, then Candidate 1 to Candidate 3, etc.) without discussion of individual candidates. The matrix was completed by each board member during a recess and the results were tabulated before the meeting reconvened and the results were announced.

Looney, the Superintendent of Butler County School District in Alabama since 2005, scored a total of 44 on the matrix. Dearden, a retired superintendent from the Marana Unified School District in Arizona, scored 28 on the matrix evaluation. Dearden is currently a senior VP with the Partnership for Excellence, he formerly was an assistant superintendent in Fairfax County, Virginia. Dr. Carroll, superintendent of Limestone County Schools in Alabama, scored 23 on the matrix.

Dr. Heath scored 15 on the head-to-head matrix and Wilson scored 10. Of note is that Board President Pat Anderson and Janice Mills both placed Dr. Heath above every one of the other four candidates. Comparatively, seven board members did not score Dr. Heath above a single one of the other four candidates. Looney was second behind Dr. Heath on both Pat Anderson's and Mills' matrix. Eight board members placed Looney ahead of every one of the other four candidates, with the remaining four board members placing only one candidate above Looney (two had Dearden above Looney, and two had Dr. Heath above Looney).

So, Brentwood Watchdog's assessment that all signs pointed to Dr. Heath being elevated to the position proved not to come to fruition. Instead, the School Board members (for the most part, at least) appear to have witnessed the interviews with open minds in search of the best candidate to lead our schools. Kudos to each of them for a job well done on this phase. It's possible that by the end of August the new Director of Williamson County Schools will be hired from among Looney, Dearden, and Dr. Carroll. Stay tuned!