Georgia close to picking school turnaround chief


A search committee has winnowed a list of candidates to lead Georgia’s school turnaround effort, and the state education board will interview the finalists Tuesday.

The Education Turnaround Advisory Council has been meeting since June, soon after it was established under a new state law for improving low-performing schools.

Members conducted telephone and Skype interviews to reduce the list of 58 applicants. The finalists -- their names are not yet public -- will meet with the state school board at the Georgia Department of Education offices in downtown Atlanta at 8:45 a.m.

One of the advisory council members, Jimmy Stokes, said he was pleased with both the process and the people selected.

“They’re very well qualified,” said Stokes, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, which represents school administrators. The three to be interviewed Tuesday have experience with statewide school turnaround efforts, he said. He wouldn’t name them but said none is currently employed in Georgia.

Stokes said all the finalists are also “very nurturing, down to earth people.” Diplomacy will be key, given the delicate task at hand: the Chief Turnaround Officer will have to rely  on collaboration with local school districts and the Georgia Department of Education, since she or he will have a relatively small staff. The state has set aside $1 million in the budget to fund the office, with $1.25 million more expected to come from a grant program.

There’s opportunity for ill will: school districts targeted by the new chief will be compelled by the Georgia Board of Education to improve their schools or face consequences, such as loss of control; and the Georgia Department of Education will be expected to collaborate though it lost its bid to direct the project.

The state agency’s leader, Superintendent Richard Woods, tussled with Gov. Nathan Deal for control over the turnaround effort, and lost. The Georgia General Assembly put  the turnaround chief under the authority of the state school board, which is appointed by the governor.

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