By Gerri Miller
The Autauga County Board of Education interviewed two of the six finalists for the position of Superintendent Thursday night in a Meet and Greet setting that was open to the community.
Due to social distancing guidelines, the Superintendent Meet and Greet hosted by the BOE and the Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce is being held during three different sessions. The first was Monday, October 12th, and the second was on Thursday, October 15th. Another session will be held on Monday, October 19th. Each session is being held in the Prattville High School Cafeteria, 1315 Upper Kingston Road at 5 p.m. and features two of the six finalists. Interviews for the two finalists are being held immediately after each event and the public can attend the interviews.
Finalists interviewed Thursday were Dr. Michele Eller and Dr. Tim Guinn. BOE members asked each candidate a set list of questions. The candidates spent the day touring many of the county’s schools and learning about the school system.
Dr. Michele Eller
Dr. Eller currently serves as chief academic officer and assistant superintendent at Chickasaw City Schools, a post she has held since July 2019. Before going to the Chickasaw system, she worked with the Eufaula City Schools as director of teaching and learning from February 2019 to June 2019. Before then, she was director of secondary instruction at Eufaula schools from November 2015 to February 2019. Chickasaw operates three schools with an enrollment of 1,155.
Dr. Eller said that a good superintendent works in partnership with the community. She told the Board about a successful project where she was able to rally students and faculty to fill a container with supplies for a new school in Honduras. “There are things that students learned on that project that they would have never learned in the classroom,” she said.
She said a successful school superintendent must work hand-in-hand with his or her partners. “You must have a plan that is data-driven where everyone is held accountable,” she said.
She said a superintendent must be prepared to give autonomy to the principals but must also be able to give guidance. She said it is also important that they are given opportunities for professional development.
She said extracurricular activities play an important role in a school system. “With my own children, all of the activities they were able to try gave them a chance to determine their interests,” she said. “It is important to provide every single activity we can.” She said extracurricular activities help with team building and problem-solving skills and are very important.
Dr. Eller serves on numerous state career technology boards. She said technical curriculums should be directly aligned to the needs of area businesses. She said career exploration programs from Pre-K to middle schools are also important.
She said the Chickasaw school system has partnerships with two community colleges. “The goal should be that every single child leave with a business/industry credential,” she said.
Dr. Eller said she has extensive experience in facilities management. “I do two walk-throughs a year,” she said. “If new construction is needed, I work with the facilities manager to secure funds. I’ve written several grants to upgrade our facilities and I am familiar with the bidding process.”
Dr. Eller said her vision for Autauga County is that every student will receive a first-rate education. “Every single student should be able to receive the same quality of education,” she said.
What does she bring to the table? Dr. Eller said she is a visionary leader who will build strong community ties and collaborations. She said she has impeccable moral values and a good work ethic. Lastly, she’s persistent-she doesn’t give up and strives to be number one.
Dr. Tim Guinn
Dr. Tim Guinn currently serves as assistant superintendent at Russellville City Schools, a position he has held since June of 2016. Before becoming an assistant superintendent, he served as a principal with the Russellville system from March 2009 to June 2016. Russellville operates five schools with an enrollment of 2,446.
Dr. Guinn said some of his core beliefs that have helped him be successful are that: 1. Every child can learn 2. You must hire professional teachers and support them with development opportunities and 3. You must hire leaders who care about children.
He said one of the accomplishments he is most proud of is when as a principal he took over a school that had a negative balance in the General Fund. “Morale was low and there was a desperate need to improve student achievement,” he said.
Dr. Guinn said the school didn’t have a good research-based reading program. He and the school librarian wrote a successful grant for a new reading program.
“It was amazing what that one program did for our reading scores,” he said. “I left the school the next year, but I gave the new principal a much better school than what I found.”
Dr. Guinn said the role of a successful superintendent is to facilitate leadership by building a consensus for action.
“I’ve learned not everybody is going to like you because of the position you are in, but you learn to make decisions and sometimes deal with difficult people,” he said.
He said a school’s principal must be ready to lead the school in everything from personnel recommendations to building a strong extracurricular program. He said he should also be knowledgeable and responsible for the school’s finances, personnel, and safety of the students.
As a football coach, Dr. Guinn saw the difference extracurricular activities could make in the life of a student. “I had students who had anger problems or who were talking about dropping out of school stay in school for sports and then excel,” he said.
Dr. Guinn said career tech programs are important in school because all students should get the opportunity to explore possible careers outside of the classroom.
He said he has extensive experience in facilities management and has been a coordinator in projects to build classroom additions and expand the career technology center. He said he always has an open-door policy and although he is a hands-on person, he is not a micromanager.
Dr. Guinn said his top strengths are that he has experience on every level of K-12 education, that he can lead strategic development teams, and that he can bridge gaps with community leaders,
On Monday, finalists Timothy Tidmore, deputy superintendent for federal programs at Albertville City Schools and Dr. Greg DeJarnett, an education administrator at the Alabama Department of Education were interviewed. We will have more information on those interviews later this weekend.
Next Monday, Dr. Penny Johnson, an assistant superintendent of curriculum, professional learning, and assessment at Troup County (Ga.) Schools, and Lee Willis, deputy superintendent-director of technology and campus safety for Morgan County Schools, will be interviewed.
The new superintendent will lead the Autauga County School District beginning in 2021. Out of thirty-six candidates, six finalists were selected by a search committee hired by the Autauga County School Board.
A law passed during the Alabama Legislative session gave the elected school board the power to make the appointment once the current Superintendent’s term expires December 31, 2020.
“The Board is excited to begin a new chapter for education in Autauga County, building on the sound foundation of our past successes”, said Mark Hindman, chairman of the Autauga County School Board. “Today’s challenges require an innovative approach applying all the available resources and seeking new ways to excel in preparing students for today’s competitive, global environment. Our goal is to provide the most qualified student possible, prepared for life’s challenges and society’s needs. We are actively seeking to build a team to achieve these goals with everyone’s help!”