By Othor Cain
After a search by national search firm Ray and Associates that began in 2011, the JPS board of trustees announced two finalists for the district’s top position. Parents, the public and educators were given a glimpse of them last week.
Officials made their selections based on interviews and recommendations. The two that emerged as leading candidates are Drs. Cedrick Gray and Dennis Carpenter.
Gray and Carpenter appeared before a public audience for the first time Wednesday, April 11, at Galloway Elementary School.
An audience of more than 200 people came away with a mixed reaction to the two men vying to lead the second largest district in the state, which has been without a permanent superintendent for nearly a year.
Gray and Carpenter tried to explain to the audience how they would be the best to move the district forward; a district plagued with low academic performing schools, threats of a loss of accreditation and under-performing Special Educational Programs.
During this public forum, both finalists took questions from the audience but in a controlled setting in which the questions were submitted and vetted in advance.
The process at the forum and the finalists’ presentations that night have left some parents not sold on either of the two. Monica Cannon is one of them.
“I’m very disappointed that we’re at this point again,” Cannon said. “Both Gray and Carpenter are charismatic and posied, but they look better on paper than they were here tonight (at the forum).”
Cannon said neither candidate talked about his successes in their current districts. “I wanted to hear substance, and I didn’t and this has me worried.”
Jackson City Councilman and former principal within the district Tony Yarber also expressed concern. Yarber said someone who has ties with the state should have been considered.
“The district needs someone who has some kind of ties with the State Department, someone who has the ability to come in and know what’s going on in the district,” Yarber said. “We can’t afford a 90-day on-the-job trainee at this point.”
Jonathan Larkin, a former JPS school board member, who voted against the hiring of embattled Superintendant Lonnie Edwards, was also concerned about the two finalists and voiced that concern at the school board meeting Tuesday, April 17.
“Neither of the two candidates has experience with turning around troubled districts nor dealing with crisis management,” Larkin said. “Both men are from smaller districts.”
District oficials have said they could name the district’s top chief as soon as April 24, however, some board members have said they wanted to visit the districts of the two finalists
to see them in action.
The job pays roughly $200,000 a year. Larkin and a group of other parents encouraged JPS leaders to reconsider Jim Barksdale’s offer to supplement the superintendent’s salary with no strings attached.