The search is on for a new city school superintendent.
The Columbus Municipal School District formally accepted Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips” resignation in a special meeting Tuesday night at the central office. They took no further action and did not to name an interim superintendent.
Phillips” last day will be June 11. On June 13, he begins his new position as director of schools for the Sumner County School District in Gallatin, Tenn.
“This decision comes after much thought and prayer as I have truly enjoyed my tenure of service here,” Phillips wrote to the board in his resignation letter. “… Having had the opportunity to be part of a team with quality people who work diligently each day for children has made this job very rewarding. It has provided me with an absolute sense of pride to have the privilege of being in this leadership position.”
He praised administrators, teachers, and staff, echoing sentiments he expressed earlier in the day at a closed meeting with the district”s eight school principals.
Board members thanked Phillips for his service and discussed the search for a new director while Phillips sat quietly behind them, drinking a soft drink.
”Leave no stone unturned”
A replacement for Phillips will be hard to find, especially with the school year so close to ending and so many other districts searching for new superintendents, board members acknowledged.
So far, two potential processes have emerged: Outsourcing the search or finding a new superintendent themselves, as they did with both Phillips and his predecessor, Dr. Lester Beason.
Board member Bruce Hanson believes the best way to find “the cream of the crop” is to bring in professional headhunters.
“The plateau we”ve attained is a steep climb,” he said. “We have to take it to the next level now. I think the person we find has to be at least equal to or greater than the personnel we”ve had already … we don”t want to settle for less than the best.”
But board secretary Tommy Prude disagreed, saying they have both the experience and the materials on hand from previous searches to undergo the legwork themselves.
“Headhunters bring us recommendations, and we go in another direction,” he said.
Previously, the board held open interviews and solicited public opinion, narrowing the field to their top five candidates before making a final selection.
All agreed that public discourse should be a big part of the selection process. Before making any further decisions, they plan to revisit their old search materials and reacquaint themselves with the steps involved if they choose to keep the search in-house rather than hire consultants.
”Vision was key”
Earlier in the day, Phillips met with principals and administrators at the central office, crediting their hard work for his success. He joked that there weren”t any tears, and while this was true, there was much praise for the things he accomplished during his four-year tenure.
Over and over, principals kept using the same words when describing Phillips: Visionary. Leader.
“His vision was key in leading our district into the 21st century,” assistant superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell said after Tuesday morning”s meeting.
“Before Dr. Phillips, a lot of people talked about doing things, but he made it happen,” added Cindy Wamble, principal of Columbus Middle School.
The school, which opened earlier this year, was built using a $22 million bond issue which passed with almost overwhelming support — some say thanks to Phillips” dedication, public relations skills, and tireless promotion.
Wamble said what she most appreciated though was the way Phillips included her in the entire process of designing her new school.
“He didn”t just hand me a key and say ”Here, run this,”” she said. “He let me be a part of everything.”
Together, they chose carpet colors, classroom layouts, even the location of the front entrance. As a result, she said, when she walked through the doors on the first day, the new building felt like hers.
Lois Kappler, principal of Cook Elementary, said that was typical of Phillips. He provided the outline, and his staff filled in the holes. She glanced at her colleagues as they flocked around Phillips one last time, some even following him down the hall as he made his way back to the office he will soon vacate.
That was typical, she said. He was always on the move, always headed somewhere, and she and the others were always chasing after him, eager to talk to him, to learn from him.
“The excitement he brought just changed the whole culture here,” Kappler said. “He changed the momentum. I”ve learned so much from him. He”s a great educator of principals.”
One by one, the principals filed out into the hallway, laughing and reminiscing about their four years with Phillips. As they exited the double doors at the front of the central office, destined for their respective schools, Phillips — finally alone — slipped out the back door, destined for a new future in a new place.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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