By Gerri Miller
EAN Staff Writer
The Autauga County Board of Education interviewed the last two of the six finalists for Superintendent Monday night and will select the new school chief on Thursday night.
The meeting will be held in Prattville High School cafeteria at 5:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public, but Board President Mark Hindman said after the final candidate was interviewed that he is unsure how much of the selection process will be conducted in public.
“I don’t like the idea of deciding candidates in public,” Hindman said. “We’ve never done this before. But we will seek counsel and do it right.”
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, were interviewed Monday night.
Dr. Penny Johnson
Dr. Penny Johnson has held her position with the Georgia school system since July 2018. Before becoming an assistant superintendent, she served as director of secondary education for the system. She also served as principal at LaGrange High School from 2012 to 2014. Troup County has 22 schools with an enrollment of 12,300.
Dr. Johnson said she started her career in mechanical engineering. She became interested in a career in education when she started teaching drafting courses in one of the system’s schools.
One of the accomplishments she is especially proud of in her career is implementing a “Data Dashboard” that helped the school system assess data to see if it was having a positive impact in the classroom.
Dr. Johnson said that leadership and courage are vital for a good superintendent and good leaders are judged not on what goes wrong but what they do when things go wrong.
She has coached softball and volleyball and said she recognizes the importance of extracurricular activities because they keep students engaged and in relationships that may help them excel in academics as well.,
“They give students the opportunity to create affiliations with like-minded peers and adults who care about them,” Dr. Johnson said. “Organizations- from clubs to sports to music- connect students.”
Dr. Johnson stressed the importance of career and technical education. “Students are making connections to their future,” she said. “A hands-on, strong program connects students who may not be college bound and identifies their interests so that they can take on leadership positions in those fields.”
She said she has facilities management and construction experience. She was a consultant during the construction of a biology lab, the planning and construction of a college and career academy and lab space layout.
What would she bring to Autauga County if selected? She said she is a problem solver, an approachable person who can build relationships with different entities and has strong leadership skills.
She said if selected, she would work hard to gain the trust of the community and develop a new three to five-year strategic plan.
“How successful our students are is how successful our community will be,” Dr. Johnson said.
Willis serves as deputy superintendent-director of technology and campus safety for Morgan County Schools. Before then he was athletic director and assistant principal of technology at A.P. Brewer High School from January 2008 through January 2011. He also served as principal for Morgan County’s alternative school from January 2000 through January 2002 and assistant principal of Speake School from January 1991-January 1999. Morgan County’s system has 19 schools and an enrollment of 7,553.
He said he started as a classroom teacher and worked his way up through the ranks. He is a fourth-generation teacher who said his mother instilled in him the value of a great education.
“We all have pathways. I have been fortunate to have a lot of leadership opportunities,” Willis said. “I understand the dynamics of the county school system and think I would be a good fit.”
He described as his proudest accomplishments being a volunteer firefighter and winning a major award from the department as well as a successful technology initiative that he planned and implemented for the school system.
He said role of extracurricular activities is more important now than ever. “They provide the opportunity to development teamwork skills and motivate students,” he said. Willis was once an Agri science teacher and saw students put those skills to work in FFA competitions.
Willis said career and technical education should be an integral part of a great school system. “Not all students go to college, but our goal is to help them achieve high enough on the ACT to choose college or career and technical education,” he said.
He said it is important that students be well educated in technology. “Go in any steel mill or other plant and all you will see are computers and robots.”
Willis has extensive experience in facilities management and construction and said it is important to have a long-range plan for the county’s facilities. He has taught construction classes and implemented energy conservation measures.
“We’ve built one new high school and now we are building another high school,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of construction.”
Willis said it is important that the public understands that they have a seat at the education table. “I don’t want to be THE superintendent, I want to be OUR superintendent,” he said.
He said he is a visionary leader who has the courage to follow through with the implementation of projects without backing off. “I believe transparency is also important. I want people to know what we are doing-we are a PUBLIC agency.”
What would be his priorities for the Autauga County School District? Willis said strategic financial stability is a must. He also wants to make Autauga County a destination school system.
“We want teachers to want to work and stay here,” he said. To achieve that, Willis said national recognitions are important.
“I’m not talking about a few students getting a million dollars in scholarship offers,” he said. “I am talking about raising the percentage of students in the system getting scholarships.”
Willis said it all starts with a vision and then a good strategic plan. “It may take a decade, but you can get there,” he said.