By Crystal Burns
The Trenton Special School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to select Peabody principal Tim Haney as the next Director of Schools or superintendent.
“The board has spoken, and the community has spoken,” said Dr. Mark Harper, board chairman.
Because state law does not allow a school board to enter into a contract with a director 45 days prior to an election or until 30 days after an election, Haney won’t assume the title or the position until September 5. Dr. Harper said that the board would begin negotiations with Haney in the hopes of having a contract ready for the September 5 meeting.
“The process was a grind,” Haney said. “I can’t wait to start.”
TSSD taxpayers will vote on three school board positions on August 3. Throughout the interview process, Dr. Harper asked the candidates to attend all interviews and communicate their concerns and ideas to the sitting board.
“We constantly got feedback from the candidates through this process,” Dr. Harper said.
Sherry Whitby, who is stepping down after 16 years on the board, announced before casting her ballot that she and her successor, Justin Weaver, who is running unopposed, were in agreement.
“I talked to Justin after every interview,” Whitby said after the meeting. “We were on the same page all the way through.”
Current director Sandra Harper, who has been in the role nine years, announced her resignation in April. She had one year remaining on her contract, which the board voted to forgive. She initially announced a resignation date of June 30 with plans to stay on as an advisor but later amended that to reflect a retirement date of August 31.
Haney said he and Ms. Harper were set to meet Tuesday morning to begin planning the transition, which he expects to be smooth.
“With the cast that we have here professionally right now at all three schools and the central office, that’s going to be fine,” he said.
In April, the board opted to hire the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) to conduct its candidate search. With the criterion the local board provided, the TSBA narrowed the field of 16 to three finalists: Dr. Janice Epperson, Jackson-Madison County School System; Suzanne Keefe, Halls High School; and Haney. The board conducted interviews with each candidate in June.
On June 22, board members voted for their top two candidates with three selecting Keefe first and Haney second, and two choosing Haney first and Keefe second. With no consensus, they set additional interviews for Keefe and Haney, which were held last week.
Whitby, who voted Keefe first in June, said after the final vote that she never questioned Haney’s ability but was hesitant to lose him as principal. She said having a new director and potentially two new principals (Courtney Wilkes begins her first year at the elementary school this fall) was a concern.
“In the end, that didn’t outweigh what we though was best,” Whitby said. “Tim has been an excellent leader.”
Dr. Harper, who made Haney his top choice in June, said there were three main things that influenced his vote: Haney’s leadership qualities and skills, his rapport with administration and teachers, and his love and concern for the district.
“That was obvious,” Dr. Harper said.
Haney, a 1978 graduate of Milan High School, began his career in Trenton in 1984, teaching and coaching at the middle school. He was a teacher and football coach until 1996 when he was hired as assistant principal at Peabody. He continued to coach even during a three-year stint as principal at the elementary school. In 2003, Haney was named principal of Peabody High School. He coached for one more year. He has served as Peabody principal for 14 years.
Sandra Harper said Haney brings the same passion he embodied on the football field to Peabody classrooms.
“I have watched him mature into an instructional leader with great passion for students,” she said. “He’s taken the competitiveness of the football field to the instructional program.”
Throughout the interviews, Haney cited his love for Trenton. His daughter, Elizabeth, is a Peabody graduate who recently earned her degree in biology from the University of Memphis. She begins pharmacy school soon. Son Gunner is a seventh grader at Trenton Rosenwald Middle School. Haney’s wife, Cindy, also a Milan grad, is a teaching assistant at Trenton Elementary.
“This is a destination job for me,” Haney said. “I’ve never applied anywhere else. I’ve never wanted to be anywhere else.”
More than 100 people attended Haney’s second interview, which took an unexpected turn when Haney closed by addressing rumors about his religion.
“I’m not an atheist,” he said. “I don’t know what I am, but I know what I’m not.”
Haney said that in 1982, he and his family met his half-brother for the first time. In 2009, after his father’s death in ’08, Haney said he began looking for his older brother. He said he created a Twitter account that could have easily been traced back to him and used information he thought might draw his brother. Some of the words he used were agnostic, atheist, and recovering alcoholic, he said.
Haney said he didn’t involve his mother or his siblings in his search, but after his first interview when a friend called to tell him there was a “whisper campaign” against him, Haney told his mother everything and asked for her blessing to tell his story publicly. His mother agreed and gave him what turned out to be outdated information about his brother’s daughters. Haney, however, connected with the oldest daughter on Facebook and found out his brother is alive and well in Delaware.
“I’ll be going to Delaware sometime soon,” Haney said.
Nearly all of the 100 people in the Peabody library stood at the story’s miraculous ending.
“I have sat on that story for nine years,” Haney said. “I could only have done that in Trenton with this group of people. I want you to do what’s best for Trenton, but I don’t want you to think I’m someone I’m not.”
Around 50 people were on hand for the final vote Thursday. Before passing out the ballots, Dr. Harper addressed another rumor that Haney knew the questions of his second interview beforehand. Dr. Harper said that Monday morning he called Suzanne Keefe to confirm the time and location of her interview.
“She had concerns about where we were going with this interview,” he said.
Dr. Harper said he told Keefe that his questions would focus on eight to 10 areas he identified through public feedback after the first round of interviews. He said the next morning he called Haney and told him the same areas.
“I didn’t go into the specifics about what the questions were,” Dr. Harper said. “I’ll take responsibility for any rumor that may have gotten started.”
Questions in the second interview included honors curriculum at the high school, using technology to communicate with parents and the community, bullying concerns, drug concerns, retaining students, the role of Student Resource Officers, resolving parental complaints, rapport with faculty, and personal motivation for applying for the position.