Tahlequah Daily Press

November 16, 2012

Caution best when picking a new leader


TAHLEQUAH — During a meeting earlier this week, Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education members decided to “transition” Lisa Presley into the superintendent’s role. Presley was chosen last June to be interim superintendent through June 2013, and many expected her status to remain unchanged until that time.

Some folks now are wondering, why the rush? And they can be forgiven for asking, especially in the wake of the departure of the previous superintendent.

It’s no secret that Shannon Goodsell wasn’t universally popular, either with district personnel or parents of students. Under the circumstances, patrons expected board members to proceed with a yellow light.

Presley is qualified to fill the role. At the time of her promotion to interim status, board members believed Presley, who was the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, was the right choice for several reasons. Perhaps the biggest factor was the timing of Goodsell’s exit, which was announced in June and became effective the first week of July - barely more than a month from the beginning of a new school year.

TPS officials knew what the 2012-2013 term was going to hold: a complete reorganization of the district, including a new pre-kindergarten center, a new elementary center, new zoning, and new transportation routes. With the opening of Heritage Elementary, many teachers found themselves transferred to a new campus, a move that was bound to raise some hackles. Moreover, new state and federal standards are being implemented this year, and the district would be well served with a seasoned professional overseeing the process.

With such little time to find a new superintendent, board members made the best possible move when they put Presley into the interim slot. She has a proven track record with the district, and her knowledge of the district and its operations has been essential to I-35’s successful navigation of the local, state and federal changes.

It’s also true that some patrons blamed Goodsell’s status as an “outsider” for many of the recent problems; with Presley, this was not an issue, as she was already in the TPS trenches.

Three of the five TPS board members – President Shannon Pinson and members Brian Berry and David Morrison – voted this week to remove Presley’s interim title. They clearly realized Presley’s credentials are sufficient to take on the new and more permanent role, and there’s no doubt her loyalties lie with ensuring students receive the best education possible. She also appears to understand the district’s employees and their importance to TPS’ success, and as Pinson later pointed out, Presley has earned accolades not only on the local level, but also from education leaders across the state.

However, the timing was rather unusual for the switch, especially since there was no change to the financial aspect of Presley’s contract, and board members didn’t expand it beyond June 2013. Boards typically work on contracts in January, so that could be a legitimate reason why other board members might hesitate in voting for approval at this time.

In fact, Donna Tinnin did vote against it, telling others the process should include a search so others could apply for the job. Board member Luke Foster abstained from the vote.

Tinnin’s response is not unprecedented. Most Oklahoma school districts, after losing a superintendent, would want to conduct a professional search for their next leader. That might also include input from district employees, patrons, and parents of students, as well as some public scrutiny of potential candidates.

Chances are good that, in the end, Presley will turn out to be the best person to fill the superintendent’s post in the long term. But board members and patrons who want to make sure the entire process is conducted in a fair, open and rigorous manner can’t be blamed for wanting to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Sometimes appearances do count very much.