School board members are taking steps to add to the transparency of the next round of director candidate interviews.
Several last-minute changes have been made to plans for interviewing the three finalists. Santiago Wood, the first of the candidates to be interviewed, visits Nashville today. Finalists Doris McEwen and Jesse Register will be interviewed next week.
This evening, board members will redo a process that board chair David Fox said Tuesday had “a flaw” in the search protocol. Board members had, several days ago, indicated on anonymous slips of paper the number of candidates they would like to invite back to town. Just prior to the interview with Wood, the process will take place again in a more open fashion.
Hired search consultant Bill Attea, of Chicago-based Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA), had told board members that the purpose of the anonymous slips of paper were to prevent candidates from knowing how individual board members felt about individual candidates. A unified board, Attea has said repeatedly, has the best chance of gaining a contract with the candidate of choice.
Fox said Tuesday that a conversation with Metro Legal Department attorney Mary Johnston recommended that the board repeat the process — without anonymity.
“I think there is reason for us to remedy it,” Fox said.
Another change involves the location of second interviews. Plans were in place for finalists to be interviewed over dinner, at restaurants, to facilitate a more casual atmosphere for getting to know one another.
But in Tennessee, any gathering of two or more school board members is open to the public, and Nashvillians interested in hearing the interviews were concerned about observing interviews at restaurants — and questioning the board’s interest in keeping the process public. Wood was, as late as Tuesday afternoon, scheduled to be interviewed at Mambu.
The plan has been changed, and while candidates will still be interviewed over dinner, the meal will be served at Martin Professional Development Center, a school district building with plenty of room for observers, Fox said Tuesday.
All three candidates will spend an entire day in Nashville prior to second interviews, and board members will take the candidates on tours of schools. Those tours will be conducted with not more than one board member present, Fox said, as officials have made plans with the law in mind.
Community role in process remains a question
For those involved in local public education, the changes are welcome. Erick Huth, president of local teachers’ union the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA), said his organization had “a concern” about the process before it was revised. But even the revised plan leaves him with some doubts.
“We were having a concern about the public nature of a meeting at a restaurant,” Huth said. “I don’t know that it’s all very well thought [through], but maybe it will work out.”
The candidates’ second round of interviews in Nashville will include a public reception, allowing community members to meet each of the candidates. Fox said the first portion will be spent mingling, then the candidate present at the reception will have about 10 minutes to address the crowd. A question-and-answer session will follow.
Francie Hunt, the local organizer of the Nashville chapter of Stand for Children, said there is some concern among board members of her organization about the low level of publicity generated for the receptions. She added that she hopes there will be a time for community members to tell board members what they think.
“Practically speaking, the worst thing that would happen is that a decision is made, and then [we] find out later that the community isn’t very happy about it,” Hunt said.
Wood’s reception will begin at 4:30 this afternoon, followed by an interview at 6:30. Both the reception and the interview will take place at Martin Professional Development Center, 2400 Fairfax Ave. The same schedule is expected to apply when McEwen and Register visit town, on Dec. 17 and 18 respectively.