Only 18 points separate the top two candidates for the Wilson County Director of Schools position.
Dr. Donna L. Wright, who came in second last year behind Dr. Tim Setterlund who was ultimately hired and resigned in January only eight months later amidst scandal, was the top vote getter with 452 votes.
Wright currently serves as assistant director of Williamson County Schools in Franklin. Prior to her current position, she served for eight years as assistant director of the Knox County Schools.
Coming second with 434 votes was Clint Satterfield, current director of Trousdale County Schools, since 2008. Satterfield is currently working on his doctorate in instructional leadership from Union University.
Prior to his position as director, Satterfield serviced as supervisor of federal programs for the Trousdale BOE from 2005-2008, as well as athletic director from 2001-2008.
All seven candidates were asked the same nine questions, each of which was worth a total of 10 points each, except for question number four which was worth 20 points.
Neither of the candidates received the highest score of all of the board members. In fact, board member Larry Tomlinson of Zone 5 scored Wright the highest of the seven candidates at 93.
Bill Robinson of Zone 2 was the only board member to give Satterfield the highest score with a perfect 100.
Candidate Dr. Jubal C. Yennie, currently director of the Sullivan County Department of Education in Blountville, Tenn., since 2010, received the highest score from Zone 4 board member Ron Britt and Zone 2 and BOE Chair Don Weathers with 96 and 93, respectively.
Zone 1 board member Wayne McNeese scored Timothy Bell, principal of Mt. Juliet Middle School since 2009, the highest at 95.
Robinson, who scored four of the candidates 30 or lower, explained for him the average was worth three points on the 10-point questions, while six was the average for the 20-point question.
“I left a lot of room at the top for outstanding,” said Robinson, who gave Wright a score of 100 last year when she was the second highest scoring candidate for the position.
He said he gave Satterfield a 100 because “if you look at it as objectively as I did, I looked at his schools’ scores, the progress he’s made and the answers he gave, and they all went together.”
Robinson also emphasized, though, that he has not made his final decision regarding who will be the next director of schools.
“My job is to find and identify the best choice for our school system. I have 19,000 people whose lives are directly affected by my decisions – 17,000 kids and 2,000 employees,” he said.
He also noted that he spent two weeks investigating each candidate and their school systems prior to the interviews.
“I want us to be at the end of this process better than we were at the beginning. This isn’t ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Robinson said.
Weathers said that Interim Director of Schools Mary Ann Sparks provided each board member with the school systems’ score cards from the state for those candidates who are current sitting directors. For those who aren’t sitting directors, the score cards for the schools they direct were pulled.
Weathers said he looked for the depth of the candidates’ responses, and that he “paid a lot of attention to their ability to answer on the fly with content.”
He said he didn’t do a lot of investigation into each background, but reviewed their resumes and the information from the school systems.
Tomlinson said he thinks “most people would be happy with either one of them. They were my two highest votes.”
He said he tried to talk to some people he knew and trusted prior to the interviews and that he plans to do a little more before the next round of interviews on May 3.
The Wilson Post was unable to reach Britt and McNeese prior to deadline for their thoughts on the final two candidates.
May 3 interview format
Weathers said beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 3, each candidate will have an hour to make a presentation to the board “based on our vision in being in the top 5 percent in the state in achievement in five years and the top 5 percent in the nation in achievement within 10 years.”
He said the presentations will include their plan to get the schools to these benchmarks and all of the particulars in terms of organization, curriculum, budget and “all of the other things they might include in such a plan.”
When The Post asked if any public participation is planned, Weathers said they had not planned for it, but that they wouldn’t rule it out.
“This is the responsibility of the board. That’s why we’re approaching it this way,” he said.
However, he said he would get with other board members and see if it is something that they might be able to do.
“The public would have to submit their questions in writing beforehand and the board would read those questions,” Weathers said, asking The Post to follow up with him later before the May 3 interviews for a decision.
“Regardless, we would welcome any interested parties to come to the interviews on May 3 and listen to what the two candidates have to say.”
Correspondent Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.