Four months into Memphis superintendent search, here’s a look at recent searches in Tennessee

The average length of recent superintendent searches for Tennessee’s largest districts was about 14 months, according to information collected by Chalkbeat.

Most of the searches cost about $45,000 with the exception of Knox County Schools, which convened a committee of three school board members rather than hire an outside firm.

The finding suggests Shelby County Schools board members’ estimate of as long as 18 months to replace Dorsey Hopson is not unusual compared with similar districts in the state.

The board plans to discuss a more specific timeline for the national search at a 5 p.m. committee meeting Tuesday.

Since Hopson announced his resignation in November, school board members have received proposals from at least five national search firms ranging in cost from $6,500 to $50,000. The board plans to put out a broader request for proposals soon.

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One of the firms, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, led the failed search for Metro Nashville Public Schools in 2015, after Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney turned down the job. That required the school board to relaunch its search a few months later with a different firm. Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates also was hired by school leaders in Denver, but the firm came back with only one finalist, an internal candidate.

Some district employees recently spoke in support of hiring interim superintendent Joris Ray, a career Memphis educator, and have called a national search a “waste” of public dollars. That prompted education philanthropy organization Memphis Education Fund to offer to pay for the search, similar to a partnership Nashville school leaders had with a local foundation in 2016. But school board members turned down the offer, citing an appearance of bias.

(Memphis Education Fund supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

Below is a quick synopsis of recent superintendent searches in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and the state’s turnaround district that mostly operates in Memphis. Length of search was determined by using the date the former superintendent announced resignation until the public announcement of a new superintendent. All searches were paid for by their respective districts unless otherwise noted:

Achievement School District, 2017-18

  • Students: 10,979
  • Malika Anderson resigns as superintendent in Sept. 2017
  • Search firm: K12 Search Group
  • Cost: $45,000
  • Length of search: 7 months
  • Hire: Sharon Griffin, chief of schools for Shelby County Schools

Metro Nashville Public Schools, 2014-15 and 2015-16

The Nashville school board launched two searches after the initial finalist, Williamson County superintendent Mike Looney, turned down the job.

  • Students: 82,424
  • Jesse Register announces he won’t seek a contract extension in Sept. 2014
  • Length of search: 20 months
  • Sept. 2014 to July 2015
  • Search firm: Hazard Young Attea & Associates
  • Cost: $45,000
  • Hire: Mike Looney, who turned down the job
  • Aug. 2015 to May 2016
  • Search firm: Huge & Associates, paid for by Nashville Public Education Foundation. Executed in partnership with a 17-member committee comprising parents, educators, and business and community leaders convened by former mayor Megan Barry and the foundation
  • Cost: $51,000. There was an additional $19,000 cost for travel and background check expenses, according to the foundation.
  • Hire: Shawn Joseph, deputy superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland

Hamilton County Schools, 2016-17

  • Students: 43,830
  • Rick Smith retires suddenly in March 2016 amidst accusations he mishandled a student rape case.
  • Search firm: Coleman-Lew
  • Cost: $45,000
  • Length of search: 15 months
  • Hire: Bryan Johnson, chief academic officer for Clarksville-Montgomery County School System

Knox County Schools, 2016-17

  • Students: 59,364
  • Jim McIntyre announces his resignation in Jan. 2016.
  • Search firm: The school board handled the national search internally with a three-member committee that made recommendations to the full board
  • Cost: Not available. The committee paid for advertisements in national publications and group email lists.
  • Length of search: 15 months
  • Hire: Bob Thomas, longtime Knox County Schools assistant superintendent