School board settles on superintendent criteria

TSBA Executive Director Tammy Grissom addresses the Knox County Board of Education at Wednesday’s meeting. Photo by Moira Charnot.

The Knox County Board of Education decided on the criteria that will be used to select a new superintendent at its Wednesday meeting. 

After more than two hours spent on the issue, Board members ultimately decided to adopt the ten criteria presented by the Tennessee School Boards Association, which had distilled them from a series of meetings with public stakeholders such as teachers, local officials, students and parents. 

Superintendent Bob Thomas, who was appointed to the post of superintendent in 2017, has announced he will be retiring in June 2022. A career educator in the Knox County system, Thomas took over in the wake of the contentious seven-year term of Jim McIntyre, who stepped down in early 2016.

The Board hopes to being interviewing finalists in February 2022 and announce a new hire the following month.

In addition to the TSBA’s criteria, the Board voted to add a requirement that all candidates have at least a master’s degree.

KTSBA Executive Director Dr. Tammy Grissom made it clear that a majority of school boards in Tennessee have adopted a master’s degree as a minimum requirement for the position of superintendent even though current state law only requires a bachelor’s degree.

Board members also discussed whether candidates should have prior experience as a superintendent.

Patti Bounds, for instance, said that it would be better for past experience as a superintendent to be “preferred” rather than “required.” She argued that adding too many minimum requirements would narrow the search at the beginning of the process rather than at the end.

“I understand the importance — with a system as large as ours — to have experience as a director of schools, but I think that ‘preferred’ leaves us open to that but it doesn’t limit us to that,” Bounds said.

Board member Daniel Watson said the requirement concerned him because it could prevent any current employees of the school system from applying for the job.

“If we want to be open to looking at internal candidates, if we say ‘prior superintendent experience’ [is required], and I could be wrong—I don’t know all the histories of all of our staff members—but I don’t think any other current staff members have prior superintendent experience,” Watson said.

Board member Virginia Babb also noted that having prior superintendent experience may not be a useful requirement if the candidates come from counties smaller than Knox County, which has the third-largest school system in the state.

“I think what we’re looking at more … is people that are coming from diverse backgrounds,” Babb said. “I mean all of a sudden you’re knocking out somebody who comes from a big system that’s got a lot of experience with a lot of very diverse people, and they would be knocked out over somebody from some tiny little county, just because they’ve been a superintendent.”

The Board ultimately voted unanimously to add that prior superintendent experience was preferred but not required.

The criteria that Grissom presented at Wednesday’s meeting came from a half-dozen stakeholder meetings held December 2 as well as an online survey.

Approximately 117 people took part in those meetings and 1,446 took part in the online survey. 

Student input was gathered through a separate process by student representative Raymond Jin, who worked with the Knoxville Education Foundation to conduct three meetings (two at area high schools and one virtual).

TSBA’s ten criteria were as follows:

“1. One who has demonstrated effective listening abilities and who has a commitment to accessibility and a willingness to maintain an open-door policy.

2. One who has the wisdom to know when change is necessary and the ability to generate such change.

3. Builds support, confidence and pride within the community for the system and keeps the community informed about and involved with the schools to encourage and foster their support of the system.

4. Speaks and writes effectively to communicate the successes as well as the needs of the school system.

5. Experience as a teacher who understands the day-to-day operations of the classroom and has sound knowledge of instruction, curriculum, and educational programs that are best for students.

6. Has the ability to unify diverse groups. Builds and maintains a diverse staff with high morale.

7. One who has experience in working with a community, staff, and students in developing long-range goals for the school system and a determination to accomplish those goals.

8. Seeks information and ideas relative to the problem, makes decisions that show fairness, mature judgement, appropriate analysis and sensitivity for those affected by the decisions.

9. Has a record of working effectively with a school board and of keeping the board well informed, sharing credit for accomplishments and enhancing the reputation and effectiveness of the board. Makes clear recommendations to the board and stands firm with his/her decisions.

10. Has demonstrated the ability to work effectively with diverse student populations and multicultural groups within the system and the broader community.”

A full copy of the TSBA report can be read here.

Board member Jennifer Owen suggested delaying the vote on criteria to the next meeting in order to allow more time to add to and edit the criteria but her motion failed. 

Owen also wanted to remove the second numbered criteria, saying that it would be too difficult to measure how a candidate would have “the wisdom to know when change is necessary” in the application process, but that motion failed as well. 

After much discussion surrounding the specific wording of the criteria laid out by TSBA, the board agreed that edits and fine details — such as grammar and formatting —  could be made after adopting the criteria.

The Board didn’t specify a salary for the position, instead choosing to advertise the $216,00 salary earned by Thomas and describe the post’s compensation as “negotiable.”

Moira Charnot can be reached at

Published on December 9, 2022.