The Monroe County Board of Education continues to narrow down its director of schools search.

During a two-hour called meeting at Central Office in Madisonville on Thursday night, the School Board cut the field of their top, potential candidates from 10 to five. The top five candidates will move on to interview round.

“Everyone is qualified,” said 2nd District's Jason Miller. “We're just going to have to vote.”

The top five candidates (listed in no particular order) selected by the School Board are as follows:

  • Phillip Swanson, a Monroe County native and current resident of Madisonville. Swanson long served as the McMinn County School System's secondary supervisor.
  • Russell Harris, who currently serves as Tellico Plains High School's principal.
  • Robert Hooper, the principal at Tellico Plains Elementary School.
  • DeAnna McClendon, a former Monroe County resident and the current director of Early Childhood Programs for the Shelby County School System.
  • Joseph “Joe” Miller, the outgoing director of schools for the Claiborne County School System. He is a former CTE director and principal of the Morgan County Career and Technical Center in Wartburg. Prior to that, he taught for nine years in Brevard County, Fla., before returning to his hometown of Morgan County to continue teaching. In his tenure, he served as assistant principal, teacher and girls basketball coach at Sunbright High School.

The other five candidates, who were removed as candidates for consideration, included:

  • Gary Cole, current assistant professor of education and director of school partnerships at Shorter University in Georgia and former principal of Sequoyah High School and long-time educator in Monroe County;
  • David Watts, former principal of Sweetwater High School and the current vice president of Academic Affairs for Hiwassee College;
  • Donald Durley, current principal of Millington Central High School;
  • David Martin, superintendent of the Tennessee School for the Blind;
  • Timothy Woodward, the superintendent of the Hancock County School System in West Virginia.

Cole, Watts, Dunley, Martin and Woodward will be sent letters from the Board of Education letting them know they are no longer being considered for the director of schools position.

The School Board scheduled interviews for the top five candidates—Swanson, Harris, Hooper, McClendon and Miller—for Wednesday, May 29, pending any conflicts.

Between now and a called budget workshop/meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14, the board members will develop questions they would like to ask the candidates and a list will be composed, then narrowed down as needed.

Following the eliminating process of applicants, a long discussion on how to narrow down the candidates from five to three eventually resulted in the board voting to take the five candidates through the interview process then to schedule a called meeting to publicly vote. At that meeting, each School Board member will go up to the whiteboard and rank the five candidates from 1 to 5 (5 being the top choice and 1 being the lowest). Each member will repeat the process until all of them have filled in their numbers. At that point, each candidate's scores will be tallied together and the three with the highest numbers will be named the top three candidates.

“In the meantime, I think we should study all five resumes closely and if you want to call someone, call them, and get to know more about them,” said 2nd District's Marsha Standridge.

The top three candidates will then be introduced in a community meeting, in which the public will be allowed to submit their questions for the candidates and have them addressed.

Earlier this year, the board voted to not renew Director of Schools Tim Blankenship's contract. Blankenship's contract will expire on June 30.

See more in the May 15 edition of The Advocate & Democrat.

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