by Danny Wade
It was almost 10 months to the day when Humboldt School Board members voted 3-2 to not offer director of schools, Dr. Versie Hamlett, a contract extension. Her contract ended June 30, 2020. Now, 10 months later, an interim superintendent has been named.
Monday morning, Lillian Shelton was voted interim superintendent 3-2 by a divided board. Leon McNeal, Valeria Wedley and Terry Johnson voted to approve Shelton as interim superintendent while Wayne McLemore and Mark Hodge (voting by phone) voted against.
The only time for discussion of a superintendent during the 10 months was during the school board’s February 6, 2020 meeting. During the meeting, the majority of the board did not take board member Mark Hodge’s suggestion of using TSBA (Tennessee School Boards Association). Instead, Wedley, McNeal and Johnson decided to do the search themselves. McNeal even suggested Wedley, as the board TLN (Tennessee Legislative Network) representative, should head up the candidate search.
The only time an interim superintendent was discussed since Dr. Hamlett’s contract extension was voted down was during the school board’s July 9, 2020 meeting. Even then, the interim superintendent was not of the agenda, but instead required amending the agenda to include discussion only. At that time, the board voted to hold a called meeting to hire an interim to lead Humboldt City Schools.
As Monday’s called meeting opened, chairman McNeal explained that the board asked for names and resumes. He said the board must discuss an interim superintendent and hire an interim superintendent.
“Whoever this board chooses, I don’t have a problem with one way or another,” McNeal said. “In 90 days, they will come before this board to see how they’re doing.”
Five candidates’ names were submitted, Dr. James Baxter from Jackson, Tenn., current HJSHS principal Jason Neman, current alternative school principal Lillian Shelton, former Stigall Primary principal Dr. Renette Coleman and Dr. Roderick Payne from Bartlett, Tenn.
Hodge, talking by phone, said he only received three candidates and did not receive resumes from Dr. Coleman or Dr. Baxter. Hodge said it was not right.
McNeal had asked secretary Cindy Love to send out an email with a deadline of 8 a.m. Monday morning.
Wedley said the board decided at their last meeting to bring candidate names to this meeting.
Hodge’s reply was the school’s website says 8 a.m.
“We can’t change the rules,” McLemore added. “The website says 8 o’clock.”
Wedley said she did not receive the email but later in the meeting referred the the three candidates named in the email. She contended the board said bring names to the meeting, and that’s what she did.
McNeal said it had to be on the website in order for candidates to know the position is available.
Johnson asked the board to vote, either allow names to be brought to the meeting or have the names in by 8 a.m. Monday.
Hodge motioned to accept the three applications submitted by 8 a.m., which was seconded by McLemore. In a roll call vote, the three application only passed 3-2 with McNeal, McLemore and Hodge voting to follow the deadline posted on the school’s website. McNeal said he could not vote against what he asked to do or he would be a hypocrite.
Shelton, Payne and Newman were the only candidates that met the deadline.
“The first thing I want to do is sincerely apologize to the two candidates that had to be disqualified,” Wedley said. “This just made the decision easier for me.”
Wedley said the board should hire from within and began praising Shelton. Wedley said Shelton was battle tested and remained with the school system.
Johnson asked how long Shelton had been with the school system. It was estimated she had been with Humboldt City Schools for over 35 years.
Hodge nominated Newman for the interim position. He noted Newman was the person for the job.
“There’s nobody who has the atmosphere and temperature than Mr. Newman,” Hodge stated. “He has the (thick) skin to deal with this board, with this school system and COVID.”
Johnson agreed with Wedley and said Shelton would be a great candidate for interim superintendent.
McNeal asked Johnson why Shelton would make a great candidate. Johnson replied it was due to all the things Wedley just said.
McNeal asked to hear from McLemore, who made it short and sweet, “Take a vote. School is supposed to start in a couple of weeks. We need someone in here.”
Wedley agreed with McLemore about school beginning soon but added the board needs to look at coming back into the buildings or not coming back. She added that safety for the staff for teachers and students.
“We need to have someone to get out in these neighborhoods, rich and poor, and capture these children,” Wedley added. “My days of bickering are over.”
Hodge called for the board to vote but McNeal said discussion was still happening. McNeal said everyone should have time for discussion.
When the vote was called for, it was McNeal who motioned to hire Shelton as interim superintendent. Wedley seconded. By a role call vote, Johnson, Wedley and McNeal voted for Shelton, while Hodge and McLemore voted against.
After the vote, McNeal said Shelton could start tomorrow (Tuesday, July 14). There was no discussion on a salary offered to Shelton as interim superintendent.