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Brown requests buyout

The Unicoi County Board of Education is scheduled to meet on Thursday, Feb. 26, at 6 p.m. to vote on buying Director of Schools Denise Brown out of her contract. The board is also slated to vote on appointing an interim director and finalize the process members will follow for hiring the next director of schools.
The board set Thursday’s meeting during a work session on Friday, Nov. 20. At the beginning of this meeting, Tommy Clouse, the system’s transportation and attendance supervisor, read a letter Brown sent to the board earlier that day requesting the board move forward with the buyout.
The letter stated: “After serious consideration of what is in the best interest of our school system, I am requesting that you buy out the remainder of my contract. I wish you the very best as you move forward with selecting a director of schools for Unicoi County. Unicoi County has a great school system and I feel confident it will continue to be a great system.
“I feel honored to have worked in this system for the last 30 years. God bless each of you and may He lead each of you in the decision you have to make in the coming days.”
No action was taken on Brown’s request. The board then began discussing policies and procedures for accepting applications for the position. Member Steve Willis referenced board policy 5.8.01, which deals with the hiring of a director of schools, as a starting point.
“I think the appropriate thing at this point is to review that document to ensure that we follow that process to the letter of the law as we go forward,” Willis said. “Prior to conducting a search, according to the policy, we shall develop a job description.”
Willis asked if the school system had a job description for the director of schools already prepared. He was advised by Clouse that the job description was developed by the individual school boards when they begin the process of hiring a director.
“However, the minimums are set by the State Board of Education,” Clouse said. “You can do just the minimums or supercede that.”
Willis also distributed a proposed list of qualifications for the position. Board member Ruth Gaines also distributed a proposed list, which she said “was very similar” to the one Willis shared.
According to his list, proposed qualifications for the next director include professional teaching certification and administrative or supervisory certification in accordance with state law and a minimum of a master’s degree.
“In my opinion, I feel like this is the starting point,” Willis said.
The applicant should also have a documented history of successful experience gained through service and roles of increased responsibility, including classroom teacher, principal and central office level experience and a willingness to reside in Unicoi County.
Willis also shared a list a what he called “core competencies.” These included: leadership, integrity, effective communication, financial planning, “child first” philosophy, community relations and board/director relations.
Policy 5.8.01 also requires the board to develop a timeline for hiring the new director, Willis said. A process for accepting and reviewing applications, as well as the selection procedure are also required. The interview process, according to the policy, must take place in an open session.
Willis also said the policy allows for the board to take input from school system employees, other system stakeholders and members of the community at large.
Gaines shared a sample survey with the board for consideration. This survey, she said, could be posted online for a set time frame in order to allow school system employees, parents, employers and the community to weigh in on the search for the next director.
“I think we really need community input,” she said. “… We need the community to tell us what they are looking for in a superintendent.”
Board member Lisa White said she would like to hear from school employees.
“You have a voice,” White said to the employees in attendance. “We want to hear your voice and what you’re looking for.”
The School Board also discussed creating a panel of teachers and administrators from the system to provide input during the search.
The first step in determining the timeline, Willis said, is posting the job and requesting applications.
“We can’t do that until we have an official board meeting and vote on that process,” he said.
He said he felt this week would be appropriate.
The next step, according to board member Tyler Engle, is having an interim director in place. The board asked Clouse, who has served as an interim director in the county before, if he would be willing to serve. Clouse said he would.
Board member Garland “Bubba” Evely said the board then needs to finalize the survey and decide when to post it. The board discussed opening the survey on March 2 and close it on March 13. This should be finalized during the Feb. 26 meeting.
Assuming the job is posted after the Feb. 26 meeting, several of the board members expressed closing the application period on March 27. Some of the school system employees in attendance opposed that time frame, saying that teaching jobs in the system have 10-day application periods. The application period will be finalized at the Feb. 26 meeting.
The board also decided that when interviews will begin after the application period closes and how many candidates will be interviewed will be determined at a later date.
The Feb. 26 meeting will be held at the Central Office in downtown Erwin. The first item on the agenda, according to Engle, should be Brown’s buyout. The second will be appointing the interim director. Matters regarding the search, interview process and hiring of next director will also be officially established during the meeting.