Our View: The school board's tough new homework: Finding Phillips' successor

April 27, 2011 11:32:00 AM



The Columbus Municipal School District is ending its chapter of the Del Phillips era. The 39-year-old Phillips is moving on, taking the reins of the 28,000-student Sumner County School District, north of Nashville, Tenn., in June. 


Phillips made no secret of his higher aspirations, and if the past four years are any indication, he''s due more successes. He''s transformed the Columbus district in his brief tenure here, and his changes will be remembered for years to come.  


The list of his accomplishments is dizzying. He consolidated school campuses and outsourced busing and food services to cut costs; he implemented a magnet school concept at elementary schools; he pushed through the passage of a $22 million bond issue with 80 percent support; he implemented year-round schooling at some schools and added pedigree educational programs, such as the International Baccalaureate regimen at Columbus High. 


Phillips'' crowning achievement is the new Columbus Middle School, a breathtaking building that rivals any school, private or public, in the state. 


The task that now faces the Columbus school board, is selecting a new leader that can build on Phillips'' improvements, and match his tireless cheerleading for the district. 


The hiring of Phillips is a testament to what a district can do when it sets its sights high and casts its net wide. We expect the school board to conduct a thorough, nationwide search for a new superintendent -- a luxury that the Lowndes County School District, which elects its top leader, does not have, by the way. 


We also urge the school board to conduct its search in a public way. We have a right to know who the finalists are. Parents and stakeholders in the district -- the taxpayers -- should be able to meet them and submit questions to them in a forum or by other means. 


The new superintendent has big shoes to fill, and many challenges lay ahead for the Columbus district.  


Phillips least tangible, and most fragile, legacy is the renewed community support and enthusiasm for changes in the city school district. We''d like to see Phillips'' torch passed to an energetic, enthusiastic, able leader who will continue his reforms and who will foster the same sense of openness and inclusiveness as his predecessor.