The Huntsville School District is in a transitory phase. Though a month-and-a-half before the doors open and the hallways bustle with students, July 1 is the annual mark of a new year, and this new year is ushering in new leadership from the classroom to the district administration office.
The biggest change – aside from the upcoming millage projects approved by voters in May – is that in the leadership positions at the helm of the district: namely with the hiring of Superintendent Dennis Fisher, whose term began on Monday, the same day that marked the end of Interim Superintendent Tammi Davis.
Fisher said in an interview last week that the search wouldn’t be limited to in-district candidates, nor should it be – the district, after all, should entertain all applicants; however, we would like to make the case for putting someone into that position who has familiarity with Huntsville Schools and the surrounding community.
Davis spent the last year leading the district after being placed into the head position in the interim, as the district searched for a more permanent replacement for Clint Jones, who left the district last summer for a job with the Arkansas Leadership Academy in Fayetteville. Davis entered her name into the field of candidates the board considered, but in the end, the position was granted to Fisher, with plans to move Davis into her previous assistant superintendent role.
Davis announced last month that she would be leaving the district after accepting a job with the Arkansas Department of Education. Her last day with the district was last Friday, and her absence creates a vacuum that will need to be filled as quickly as possible. The school board and Fisher don’t have the luxury of taking their time like they did in their superintendent search last year. Fisher is new to the district and to the role of superintendent and will need help, at least for a while until he grows into his new role.
So that leaves the question of who the board – and ultimately, Fisher, as Board President Danny Thomas said the decision will be left in his hands – should fill that vacancy with.
Jones was a fiscal godsend to the district, crunching its numbers into the black during his tenure there, but he never gained the full support of the community or his staff. Davis seems to have had the support of the community – after all, she’s from here, and she passed the district’s first voter-approved millage increase in 30 years – but for whatever reason, she didn’t gain the full support of the board.
The vocal majority in the district have made it clear the importance to them to have someone in a leadership position who knows Madison County; someone who engages with the community and who works just as hard to be their neighbor as they do the superintendent. There’s nothing wrong with bringing people from other towns to fill jobs here – even at our paper, we’re a staff comprised mostly of people who found this county through various opportunities, not birthright. But we also know the difficulties that come with entering a new community and finding acceptance in it. It takes time, which, on the cusp of a new dawn for Huntsville Schools, the district simply doesn’t have.
So what the Huntsville School District needs is a right-hand man or woman who bleeds Huntsville and Madison County, who can help bridge whatever gaps may exist between the faculty and their new boss.
Some in this community are watching and eagerly awaiting their chance to point out any mistakes – big or small – that this district makes going forward. A local face and name will ease some of the criticisms of that firing squad.
Fisher, too, will want to hire from within the district if he wants a shot at better support than what Jones received. We’re a small town with a small school district, and we’ve learned that teachers will work much better for an administrator they know and already respect than a new one who comes in with thoughts of change and growth (regardless of how good those ideas may be).
That’s not to take any due credit away from Fisher – the board placed its confidence in him, and we should too until he proves we shouldn’t. But something can be said for familiarity, and we need a familiar face working alongside him as our district writes its next chapter.