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Our View: Finding a balance




This morning, the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees, by a 3-2 vote, selected Dr. Philip Hickman as its new superintendent of schools. We congratulate Hickman, welcome him to the city and look forward to hearing his plans for the district. The superintendent position is the highest-paid job in city government and while some say the pay is too high, it certainly does indicate just how vitally important the job is. A successful superintendent translates into successful schools and no one can seriously question the importance of good schools to the growth and prosperity of a community. 


Over the past decade, Lowndes County has seen an explosion of new industries, but the city has not grown proportionately. Those who come here to work in those industries do not choose to live in Columbus in large numbers. Schools are certainly one important factor in deciding where to live, maybe the most important factor, in fact. 


So the stakes are high as our new superintendent takes over. 


To succeed, he will need to be an effective communicator, a skilled, detail-oriented administrator, a team-builder, a boots-on-the-ground leader, an enthusiastic advocate for the schools and a visionary who is capable of looking beyond the moment to guide the district in such a way that it anticipates challenges rather than simply reacts to them. 


It is also important to note that he cannot succeed on his own. 


If we have learned anything from watching the district over the past few years, it is this. 


With today's hiring, the district has had three superintendents in as many years, and there is something to be learned from this as it relates to the proper relationship between the superintendent and the school board.  


The past three years have had a Goldilocks feel to it. When Del Phillips was superintendent, he had a staggering amount of autonomy. The board rarely challenged his decisions, routinely approving his decisions without dissent or debate. That practice continued when Dr. Martha Liddell moved into the role following Phillips departure. The superintendent had too much power, the board too little in those two cases.  


The lack of oversight by the board proved disastrous and, as a result, the district is still suffering.  


That changed dramatically upon Liddell's firing almost a year ago. Under Edna McGill's tenure as interim superintendent, the board was again out of balance, exerting so much influence that even the most benign request or recommendation from the interim superintendent was met with stubborn opposition. Suddenly, it was the board that had too much power and the superintendent too little. 


Today's decision represents a wonderful opportunity to move on from "too much" and "too little" to find the "just right." 


If our new superintendent is to succeed, he must be permitted the proper amount of autonomy to make the best decisions based on his expertise as a professional educator. The board, meanwhile, must be committed its rightful role as an informed body that can provide both support and guidance to the new superintendent. 


The board cannot be a rubber-stamp committee of the Phillips and Liddell eras, nor can it be the "just-say-no" entity it has become under McGill's tenure. 


If our schools are going to reach their potential, it will require collaborative, healthy, properly balanced relationship between the board and our new superintendent. 


Today is a chance to begin getting it "just right." 




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