Friday, May 2, 2008

Mayor Karl Dean digs deeper into schools director search

By Amy Griffith, Friday, May 2, 2008 3:21 am(city newspaper)
Updated: Friday, May 2, 2008 3:21 am

As a new chapter for Nashville public schools continues to unfold today with school board interviews of director search firms, Mayor Karl Dean’s involvement with Metro Nashville Public Schools has the potential to grow.

A spokesperson for the mayor said he plans to conduct his own unscripted interviews more like “real conversations” with the three companies being considered to conduct the search for Nashville’s next director of schools.

“He’s expressed a clear desire to be involved in our schools, and that means he’ll be working with the next schools director very closely,” said Janel Lacy, spokesperson for the mayor, on Thursday. “I think it’s natural that he be involved in the decision of who that person is, considering the close working relationship they’re going to have. … This search is going to play a critical role in the direction of our schools, so it will in turn play a role in our city’s future.”

Danielle Mezera, director of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Youth, will be present at the interviews and will share Dean’s perspective on the decision Saturday morning, at an 8 a.m. public meeting called by the school board for the purpose of choosing a firm.

School board members have said they’re counting on whatever search firm they choose to play a role in shaping — at least in the planning phase — the process for selecting a new director, including the specific role that the mayor’s office and community stakeholders will play.

Dean — who has said repeatedly since his August election that he plans to be “very involved” in public schools — has been a part of the search firm selection from the beginning. Dean was one member of a team of three who narrowed down the list of applying firms to a group of three finalists. He has also offered to raise money through private sources to pay for a search firm, once chosen, and board members have indicated their interest in taking him up on it.

The specifics of Dean’s interviews of search firm candidates were not publicly discussed by the school board as a whole, and several board members indicated to The City Paper, when asked, that they hadn’t been aware of Dean’s individual meetings with candidates. No board member, however, has expressed to The City Paper sentiments other than support for Dean’s involvement.

“I have no problem with the mayor interviewing [the firms],” said school board member George Thompson on Wednesday.

Board member David Fox said Thursday, “If the mayor’s meeting with them, that’s fine. … I’m glad he cares enough to do it. That’s probably a good thing.”

Fox added that he expects the board to deliberate, publicly, on the role that Dean — as well as local stakeholders in public education — will play in the unfolding search before a firm is hired, either today or tomorrow.

But whatever the proposals of the search firm candidates, statements from the mayor’s office indicate that Dean plans to be a part of the search.

“The mayor’s going to continue to be a part of the process and continue to be a part of the conversation,” Lacy said.

Two Metro Council members — Jerry Maynord and Jim Gotto — said at MNPS’s budget hearing with the Council that Board of Education members should take care to make their own decision about choosing a director of schools, as board members are elected by the public for that purpose.

Dean has said he respects the school board and its legal role, and comments that Lacy said Thursday are still accurate. Mezera will present the mayor’s thoughts about search firms and Dean will leave it up to the board to decide how to weigh those thoughts.

The three search firms to be considered are Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. of Illinois, ProAct Search of Wisconsin and Ray & Associates of Iowa. School board interviews of the firms are open to the general public, and begin this morning at 8:30 a.m. at the MNPS central office, 2601 Bransford Ave. The board is slated to discuss and make a decision about which firm to hire at 8 a.m. Saturday, also at MNPS central offices.

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