Front and center… Six candidates for Elizabethton City Schools Superintendent complete interviews

Published 2:50 pm Monday, June 15, 2020

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With many people enjoying a beautiful Saturday out and about, members of the Elizabethton City School Board spent several hours talking with the six candidates from where a new Director of Schools will be chosen from.
It will be a difficult decision for the board as they were hoping to have maybe a couple of the candidates have a less than stellar interview but by the end of the day, each of the candidates held their own and impressed the board in differing ways.
After hearing the interviews and breaking each one down during a time of compression, the board will come back together Tuesday evening at 6:30 pm where each will cast a ballot with their first pick.
In the event of a 3-2 or 4-1 vote, the board will briefly discuss the dissenting ballots and take a vote to see if they can reach 100 percent agreement to show the incoming Director their unity behind that person.
If the ballots show a 2-2-1 or a wider split, the board will continue to discuss and vote until they can come to a 100 percent agreement on the new director.
By the end of Tuesday’s session at the City School Board meeting room, a new Director will be named. The meeting is open to the public as social distancing will once again be followed.
The following is a breakdown of some of the points from each of the candidates and a look at how the board felt at the end of the day on Saturday before taking the information home to sort through before Tuesday’s meeting.
Dr. Greg Rockhold via Zoom
During his interview, Dr. Rockhold stated that one of his strongpoints was being a relationship builder and listener. He also said that when problems arise, they will not be dismissed but he would make sure callbacks happen to resolve those problems.
Dr. Rockhold also stated that he takes a no hee-haw approach – that he would be upfront with his answers. He believes in the ‘We’ approach having everybody on board.
When it comes to the Coronavirus, Dr. Rockhold stated that safety for students and staff was very important.
Some of the comments from the board were:
1. His stats on reopening schools from the shutdown showed he puts meat on the bones about the virus – Dr. Grover May.
2. He has researched our school system and is an educator with a lot of history – Dr. Grover May.
3. He was extremely prepared and knew about us – Phil Isaacs.
4. I would love for my kids to have a principal like that because he is passionate about students – Eddie Pless.
5. People would really get behind him because he is delightful and gives you warm fuzzies – Rita Booher.
6. All of his references stated he is very honest and a ‘stick to his guns’ type of guy – Rita Booher.
Dr. David Rizor
Dr. Rizor has mainly worked with independent charter schools where he has worn many hats. When it came to a question surrounding leadership, Dr. Rizor said he believed in upholding the highest standard by setting the tone and example and wanted to be a resource.
His responses also showed that Dr. Rizor is a strategist-type when it comes to resolving controversial issues. He tries to gauge the temperature of the folks around the issue and then develops a plan to approach it strategically.
When it came to reopening schools from the COVID-19, Rizor stated that schools need to be cautious when reopening.
Comments from Dr. Rizor’s interview:
1. He matched his resume – Eddie Pless.
2. He had the ability to differentiate between public and charter schools – Rita Booher.
3. His only downside is that he hasn’t worked with budgets – Rita Booher.
Travis Thompson
Thompson was the first of three internal candidates that interviewed for the position. Thompson brings a lot of military background to the table including helping the city school system get approval for a naval ROTC program at Elizabethton High School.
Thompson referenced John Maxwell’s Five Steps of Leadership and concluded by stating that he was a Level 5 Leader. He expressed the need for open-door relationships and stated that he was thick-skinned and open-minded when it came to handling controversial issues.
Comments from Thompson’s interview:
1. Internal candidates are a little easier to interview in some ways and harder in others – Dr. Grover May.
2. He showed confidence in being a Tier 5 leader – Dr. Grover May.
3. He is on a path to become a leader and possesses the drive to keep learning – Dr. Grover May.
4. He was organized and disciplined and showed self-confidence – Phil Isaacs.
5. He showed confidence in himself and strong leaders bring confidence – Rita Booher.
6. The community is very military-respectful and people would respect him – Rita Booher.
7.  The lack of experience is the one concern – Rita Booher.
8.  His lack of experience is one concern to me – Danny O’Quinn.
9.  He did a good job on his interview – Eddie Pless.
Dr. Myra Newman
Dr. Newman was the second internal candidate to be interviewed. She stated that one of the reasons that she and her family moved to Elizabethton was to serve as her husband, Mark, came as the Youth Director at Calvary Baptist Church in 2005.
She added that is the way she sees leadership as being a servant leader moving forward by being a servant and transparent. Dr. Newman also had experience in budgets in her role as a principal.
Dr. Newman stated that she saw counseling and support for students as a great need and that in the area of gifted students that was an area that needed work on and pushed forward.
She stated that it was important for people to learn from their failures and move forward because it was a learning process. The most enjoyable part of her current job with the city schools was coaching others and seeing people succeed.
Comments from Dr. Newman’s interview:
1. I have liked the internal candidates better than the rest – Danny O’Quinn.
2. I liked where she is part of the community and just not the school and her background – Danny O’Quinn.
3. She is very passionate and everything is student-driven – Rita Booher.
4. I know its hard when it affects people in your church – Rita Booher.
5. I liked her answer on failure because failure is part of learning – Dr. Grover May.
6. She has a servant-leader mentality – Dr. Grover May.
7. She likes to coach. That checked all the boxes to be in process for higher leadership – Dr. Grover May.
8. She is very focused and does everything that she is asked to do – Eddie Pless.
9. I liked her thought process on BEP – Eddie Pless.
10. She is on top of it and very professional – Phil Isaacs.
Dr. Myles Hebrard
Dr. Hebrard stated that education is his life calling and believes in doing things right the first time. He looks at his job being not about himself but all about his students, staff, and community.
He stated that leadership is a calling and currently as Director of Special Education for Oak Ridge Schools has 55 teachers and 38 Teacher Assistants under his leadership.
In regards to budget, he manages over a six-million dollar budget currently.
Dr. Hebrard said that he was a handshake person where your word was your word. He likes to coach people up and forge trust. He stated that he does not like hiding behind an email but will show up and talk to someone in person.
He likes being out in the community and being visible because that is what heads off controversy especially in board meetings.
Comments from Dr. Hebrard’s interview:
1. He’s very smart but he got off track a lot and never really answered questions – Danny O’Quinn.
2. He danced around questions – Danny O’Quinn.
3. He is an inspirational speaker – Dr. Grover May.
4. He has no pause about getting in front of people and is able to get money – Dr. Grover May.
5. He is extremely passionate and a community unifier – Dr. Grover May.
6. He is a talker and storyteller – that is the way he communicates – Rita Booher.
7. Said he would do everything so he is a go-getter – Rita Booher.
8. He is very passionate and I am impressed he has a future leadership academy – Rita Booher.
9. He is a visible leader – Eddie Pless.
Richard VanHuss
VanHuss has been in the school system for 24 years overseeing everything except transportation and budgets. He is a graduate of Elizabethton High School and has children currently at the high school.
He said his passion has always been education even after receiving his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee. He started out as a math teacher and has volunteer coached in several sports.
His strong point is his involvement and is known throughout the community and stated that his Faith is the guidance in the way he leads. His years of experience within the school district and his experience also were parts of his key strengths.
He believes in surrounding himself with smart people and working together to resolve issues.
Comments from VanHuss’s interview:
1. He has a lot of experience and doing all the things in the school system over the last 24 years – Danny O’Quinn.
2. He was the point-man on the new football stadium and brought that project in under budget – Danny O’Quinn.
3. He is good with the community and knows everybody – Danny O’Quinn.
4. He has worn many hats and helped bring the stadium in under budget – Phil Isaacs.
5. I loved it when he stated it was important to make sure every kid has an opportunity to do something – Rita Booher.
6. He understands it’s important to get kids plugged in – Rita Booher.
7. He has deep, deep roots – Rita Booher.
8. The only concern and it’s not negative is I worry how hard it would be for him to discipline a person he has a great relationship with because it would hurt his heart because this job wears you out – Rita Booher.
9. He has probably earned his Ph.D. in the Elizabethton Schools – Eddie Pless.
10. I have never met anyone more into what is happening here in Elizabethton – Eddie Pless.
11. This is where he has chosen to be and is well respected and well rounded – Eddie Pless.
12. I appreciate his calm which is a big deal for our system – Eddie Pless.
13. I liked the way he responded and he could be a boost to our system – Eddie Pless.

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