Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
During their Thursday night meeting, the Hamilton County School Board officially named Justin Robertson as their choice for superintendent with a 7-2 vote.
Robertson has been an employee of the school system for 13 years and is currently serving as the interim deputy superintendent. He will replace former superintendent Bryan Johnson who resigned in August to take a job with U.S. Xpress, a trucking and logistics business. Dr. Nakia Towns, who was voted in back in July, has been serving as interim superintendent.
Tucker McClendon, Marco Perez, Tiffanie Robinson, Joe Smith, Rhonda Thurman, James Walker, and Joe Wingate all voted in favor of Robertson. The dissenting votes came from board members Jenny Hill and Karitsa Jones.
As soon as the meeting was called to order, Smith made a motion that they hire Robertson. Jones, however, said they needed to spend some time discussing the three final candidates before taking a vote to hire one of them.
“The last time we hired a superintendent we had a discussion about it before it got to [a vote], to be transparent to the community,” said Jones.
Walker felt a discussion was unnecessary, saying that the process had been open to the public and it was time to make that nomination.
Most of the other board members agreed with Jones and voted in favor of taking the time to discuss the candidates before moving to a vote.
“I think the public deserves insight into the minds of the people that have been elected to speak for them,” stated Hill.
She noted that she felt that Robertson would have the votes to be hired, but she would sleep well knowing that he would be successful in the position.
Jones then stated that her vote would go to Dawson because she felt he did a solid job of engaging with the community. She also expressed unease that Robertson might not be able to do his job as well because of his status as “hometown hero.”
Wingate countered by saying he would feel better about Robertson because the risk of hiring an internal candidate outweighs the reward that may come with hiring an unknown candidate.
Jones also said she did not feel that the interview process had been equitable across the board because all three candidates were asked different questions in their interviews.
“I don’t ultimately see this as being the most fair process for all three candidates,” she said. “I’m really actually embarrassed to have been a part of this process.”
Besides Robertson, the board also considered Jermaine Dawson and Christopher Bernier. Dawson is the chief academic and accountability officer of Birmingham City Schools in Birmingham, Alabama. Bernier is the chief of staff for the Clark County school district in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Perez brought up concerns with Bernier, saying that the fact that his experience had been solely in Florida and Nevada could be an issue. Perez stated that those systems are “much better funded than we are used to in Tennessee” and he was afraid that the financial issues that come with running Hamilton County Schools might be difficult for Bernier.
Perez also stated that, while he did feel Dawson was a solid candidate, he was not sure that hiring someone who changed jobs as frequently as Dawson would be good for the district. He said they need someone who will be a stable leader.
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Thurman said she feels hiring from within the system is the best option when someone qualified is available.
“I think if there’s nobody in Hamilton County who can move up and be a superintendent, shame on us,” she stated. “We have spent millions of dollars in our county training our principals, training our staff. What are we training them for if it’s not to be able to move up?”
Robertson first started as a teacher and coach at Boyd Buchanan, a private school in Chattanooga. He then worked as a teacher and administrator in Shelby County Schools before being hired by Hamilton County Schools in 2008. He has held a number of different administrative positions, most recently serving as chief operations office before he was named the interim deputy superintendent.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com