New superintendent one step away from coming to Phenix City Schools after split vote

Five months after the search reopened for a new superintendent of Phenix City Schools, a split Board of Education has narrowed its list of four finalists to one candidate.

In a 4-3 vote Thursday, a majority of the board decided to enter contract negotiations with Janet Sherrod of Northport, Alabama. Sherrod is executive director of learning support for Tuscaloosa City Schools.

Janet Sherrod
Janet Sherrod

After a closed session of approximately 15 minutes, the board invited the public back into the meeting. Katrina Collier-Long made the motion to select Sherrod. Elliott Patrick seconded the motion.

Without any discussion about the motion, Collier-Long, Elliott, board chair Yolaunda Daniel and Florence Bellamy voted yes. Brady Baird, KeAnthony Brooks and Jonathan Taylor voted no.

In March, the PCBOE announced its schedule of public interviews to be held in April with Sherrod and three other finalists:

  • Elgin Dixon of Dublin, Georgia. Dixon is a retired superintendent of Twiggs County Public Schools in Jefferson, Georgia.

  • Don McPherson of Cullman, Alabama. McPherson is a consultant for the Walker County Board of Education in Jasper, Alabama. He previously was superintendent of the Coffee County Schools System in Elba, Alabama.

  • Nathan Walters of Phenix City. Walters is operations director for Phenix City Schools.

The PCBOE reopened its superintendent search in December. A week after selecting Huntsville City Schools deputy superintendent Clarence Sutton Jr., the board announced he had decided not to become the next leader of PCS as they failed to agree on a contract.

Darrell Seldon, the PCS assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, has been the school system’s interim superintendent since Randy Wilkes ended his eight-year tenure June 30 to lead a new school system in Alabama. The Orange Beach Board of Education unanimously approved the hiring of Wilkes on June 7 to be the Gulf Coast resort city’s first superintendent.

Reasons for their votes

As the board members left Thursday’s meeting, five of the seven members explained their votes to the Ledger-Enquirer.

“Dr. Sherrod is a qualified candidate, and I think that she will do Phenix City Schools a great service,” Collier-Long said.

Asked what stands out about Sherrod, Collier-Long wasn’t specific but said she is impressed with “all of her qualities that she showed in her interview and in her resume.”

Patrick said he seconded the motion because Sherrod is “the best candidate.”

“She does have some experience in Alabama schools,” Patrick said. “I was very impressed with her interview. I wasn’t present at the interview, but I did watch on Facebook. … Her focus is the kids, and that should be all of our focus. That was one of the selling points to me also.”

Sherrod can move the school district forward, Daniel said.

“She’s experienced,” Daniel said. “She has experience in administration. She has been in school systems for almost 30 years. She’s worked as a teacher. She’s worked as an assistant principal. She’s worked as a principal. She has noted school improvement in her district, so I think she can come and do great things here for Phenix City Schools.”

Bellamy said she voted for Sherrod because “based on the interviews and the resumes, she just separated herself from the rest.”

Specifically, Bellamy said, she likes Sherrod’s “experience and her tenacity as to getting into hard places of curriculum and schools and turning them around. Her record spoke for itself.”

Baird said he voted against the motion but said Sherrod “will do well.”

“I felt like there were some rocks that were left to be overturned to find the best possible candidate,” Baird said. “But I do understand, within the pool that we have, that Dr. Sherrod will do well.”

Beyond the approximately 15 candidates who applied after the search was reopened, Baird said, “I felt like we could have looked a little bit deeper, and we did not take those opportunities. But we did have a strong candidate pool, and now we’ve got to rally behind the person we got, and all will be well.”

Asked to clarify what he means by looking “a little bit deeper,” Baird said, “We probably could have done a better job recruiting applicants.”

Is a split board a concern?

Patrick acknowledged the split vote might be a tough situation for Sherrod to start as superintendent.

“Anytime you’re coming in with a split board or split vote, it may be challenging,” Patrick said. “But I can just speak for myself, and I would definitely support her in that process to make sure that it’s a smooth transition.”

“Sometimes people disagree, and sometimes you just have to agree to disagree,” Patrick said. “As a board, at the end of the day, we’re going to do the best thing for the kids, and we will make sure that even though she didn’t have a unanimous vote, we will rally behind her.”

The four other board members the L-E interviewed Thursday said they aren’t concerned the split vote could hinder Sherrod.

“We all have our individual votes,” Collier-Long said, “… but we’ll work together to support our superintendent.”

Daniel said, “It doesn’t concern me because we’re individuals, and individuals have different ways of thinking. We are one board, and we will work together as one board.”

Bellamy compared this school board situation to church.

“I’ve been in church meetings where ideas have been split like that, and then once people get in and start working together, that ship starts going in the same direction,” Bellamy said. “I’m confident. She’s a proven leader, and that’s what we can expect here.”

A sign of possible unity came from Baird when, despite his opposing vote, he said, “People voted their conscience, but I feel very confident our board will rally behind our new leader, and our school system will keep moving forward. Dr. Sherrod is a very capable candidate, and she’s going to do a great job. I know she will.”

Background information about Janet Sherrod

According to her bio info online, Sherrod is a native of Pickens County, Alabama. She earned a doctorate in education from Hampton University, a specialist’s degree in education administration from the University of Montevallo, a master’s degree in math education from the University of West Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in math education from Tuskegee University.

Before her current role as executive director of learning supports for Tuscaloosa City Schools, she was the system’s director of student services. While she was principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Tuscaloosa, the school was removed from the state’s failing list.

In Greensboro, Alabama, Sherrod was the first principal of Greensboro Middle School and the first female principal of Greensboro East Elementary School.

In Midfield, Alabama, Sherrod was assistant principal of Rutledge Middle School. She started her education career as a math teacher for Tuscaloosa County Schools.