Superintendent search narrows to seven finalists

Published 9:58 pm Saturday, February 13, 2016

The search for the next superintendent of the Dallas County School System has been narrowed to seven applicants.

The final candidates include two local candidates in Dallas County Schools Assistant Superintendent Hattie Shelton and Southside High School Principal Clarence Jackson.

The other finalists are Dr. Vivian Relf, director of special education services for the Russell County Board of Education; Isaac Haynes, the former superintendent of the Canton, Mississippi Public School District; Walter Fenn, the assistant superintendent of Chilton County Schools; Sherene Carpenter, the coordinator of attendance at Birmingham City Schools; and Corey Jones, who works in administration for the Perry County School System.

“We are very pleased because all of our candidates were highly educated. They have Ph.Ds, and most times you don’t get that when you’re looking for a superintendent,” said Dallas County Board of Education president Carolyn Bates. “It wasn’t where we had to settle for anyone. We had the option to actually pick the people we thought were the best qualified candidates.”

The position opened in December when current Dallas County Schools Superintendent Don Willingham announced he would retire at the end of the school year. Willingham has worked with the school system since 1978 and has been the superintendent since 2013.

Bates said 13 candidates applied for the position before the field was narrowed to seven for the interview process. Interviews are open to the public and will take place Tuesday, Feb. 23 in the commissioner’s chamber of the Dallas County Courthouse. The interviews will begin at 10 a.m. and end at 5:30 p.m.

If no candidate stands out from the seven that interview, Bates said the board could still request interviews from the other six candidates.

The interviews will last around 45 minutes apiece, with Shelton interviewing first at 9:30 a.m. She will be followed by Jackson and Relf before a lunch is taken at 12:45 p.m. Haynes will interview at 1:30 p.m., followed by Fenn, Carpenter and Jones. Closing remarks will take place between 5:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Bates said a superintendent certification is required for the position. She said financial experience, specifically experience with grants, will be a plus, since the school system has discussed building a new school for the last three or four years.

She was also pleased that two local candidates, Shelton and Jackson, made the cut.

“We always like to give our people an opportunity to advance, but when it’s all over we’re still looking at the most qualified candidate and the applicant that has the most to give to the school system,” Bates said.

Here’s a closer look at each of the seven candidates:

Shelton received a Master of Arts degree in special education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1990. She also graduated from the University of West Alabama in 1997 with a major in educational leadership and in 1982 from UAB with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. She served as the principal at Tipton-Durant Middle School and Bruce K. Craig Elementary School before becoming a supervisor with the Dallas County Board of Education in July 2012. She became assistant superintendent in January 2013 and still serves in that role.

Jackson graduated from Alabama A&M University in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree in health, physical education and recreation. He later received a master’s of art in education, master’s degree in health education and certification in educational administration from UAB in 1987. He served as a principal in the Demopolis City School System from 1991-2010 before taking accepting his current job as the principal of Southside High School.

Relf received a Bachelor of Science degree in special education from Alabama A&M in 1980. She later obtained a master’s degree in elementary education from Western Kentucky University, an educational specialist degree in educational leadership from Troy University and a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. During her teaching career, Relf taught mostly special education and first grade. She became an assistant principal for the Russell County Board of Education in 2004 and currently serves as the director of special education services for the Russell County Board of Education and Jacksonville State University.

Haynes graduated from Alcorn State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1989 and later received a master’s of science degree in education administration and supervision from Jackson State University. He served as the superintendent of education for the Jefferson Davis County School District in Prentiss, Mississippi from 2008-2014. He is currently the superintendent of the Canton Public School District in Canton, Mississippi.

Fenn graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting in 1989. He obtained a master’s in business administration from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1995. Fenn added a master’s degree in educational administration in 1997 and a doctorate in education leadership from Lamar University in 2011. Fenn served as the superintendent of schools in the Texas School Districts from 2001-2011. From 2011-2015, he was an assistant principal in the instructional leadership program at the University of Montevallo.

Carpenter received a Bachelor of science degree in secondary language art education at Alabama State University. She later added a master’s of education degree from Montevallo, education specialist and doctor of philosophy in education leadership degrees from UAB and attended the superintendents’ academy at the University of Alabama. She has served as a coordinator of attendance for Birmingham City Schools since 2013.

Jones received a Bachelor of Science degree from Troy University in biology in 1992. He added a master’s of science degree in biology education in 1994 from Troy. In 2012 he received a doctorate of education from Alabama State University. He has served as the education administrator for the Perry County Board of Education since 2003. He was a teacher at Francis Marion High School from 1994-2003.