Reviewing the choices

Meet the three vying for city’s director of schools

Lyle C. Ailshie

Lyle C. Ailshie

Mike S. Winstead

Mike S. Winstead

Stephanie Thompson

Stephanie Thompson

Members of the Maryville City Schools Board acknowledge they face a tough decision in 11 days: selecting one of three candidates to offer the position of director of schools to replace the retiring Dr. Mike Dalton.

The arduous process of picking the top executive of the entire school system is expected to culminate at a Dec. 17 meeting when the five members of the school board decide whether they will offer the job to a top administrator of the Knox County school system, the director of another East Tennessee municipal school system or one of their own, Dalton’s assistant.

Based on a series of meetings with the candidates last week and a work session Monday at which the board compared their impressions of the candidates, board members clearly do not believe there is a clunker in the bunch.

Dalton has served as director of Maryville City Schools since 1988, and his retirement is effective on the last day of this year. In September he was selected as Tennessee’s school superintendent of the year for 2008.

Although Dalton is not an exceptionally large individual, the shoes he will leave for a new director of schools to fill are, by all accounts, ponderous. Most would agree that just being able to remain for 19 years in a job as sensitive as overseeing the education of other people’s children is a testament to a person’s diplomatic -- as well as administrative -- skills.

A first-grader in Dalton’s first year on the job would have graduated high school with the new millennium and theoretically be well into productive adulthood by today, possibly with his or her own children in elementary school.

None of this makes the board’s choice any easier.

But here, alphabetically, are the candidates:

Lyle C. Ailshie

Ailshie, who holds a doctorate in education from East Tennessee State University, is a native of Greene County and has been director of Greeneville City Schools for eight and a half years.

Ailshie says he is the first in his family to graduate college and had “no intention of being an educator.”

But that is where life has led him, and now he says that he has accepted the challenge to “be the best at whatever I am.”

Ailshie said he feels he has a proven track record as a school administrator, noting that Greeneville has the fourth highest ACT scores in the state. That, for him, is “the finished product.”

He said he is a little wary of state-mandated test score and curriculum because those “can become a ceiling, not a starting point.” He said that in high-performing systems it is easy to “tout averages, not faces,” meaning individual students can sometimes be left behind.

Curriculum, he said, should have depth, but also breadth.

Ailshie says he, like the other candidates, believes in site-based management, meaning administrators in the individual schools have a great degree of control over its operation.

“I can’t be the principal of every school,” he said.

Curriculum, Ailshie said, should be “culturally relevant” so that students understand the world they live in and can accommodate other points of view.

Stephanie Thompson

Thompson is the most familiar of the candidates to the school board and others within the system. She has been the assistant director of schools in Maryville for eight and a half years.

If she is elevated to director, the Blount County native will be the first of her gender to hold the position.

Thompson’s father was her principal all 12 years she was in school in Blount County, as well as her basketball coach. She attended Middle Tennessee State University on a basketball scholarship and graduated in 1978. She got her master’s and educational specialist degrees from the University of Tennessee.

Not unexpectedly, Thompson is more familiar with the Maryville system’s past and present than her fellow job candidates, and she identifies growth as the major challenge in the years ahead.

The system will be dealing with new buildings, teacher and student placement and other difficult issues in coming years.

She said hers and Dalton’s skills and strengths have complemented each other over the years and that her steepest learning curve will probably in the area of budgeting.

She said a main goal should be to “look at what we need to provide” students with so that they can be “more competitive in the global nation.”

Thompson said she is confident she can make a “comfortable transition” from assistant director to director.

Mike S. Winstead

Winstead, director of curriculum and accountability for Knox County Schools, places a lot of emphasis on data and what it can tell educators to make their schools better.

Winstead got his undergraduate degree at ETSU and his Ph. D. at UT. In his current position he oversees curriculum design, but he says his main role is accountability.

Knox is a data-driven system, he said, and that system “makes decisions based on the data.”

Winstead said he is surprised that the Maryville system does not have more advanced placement courses.

He expressed an advocacy of a rigorous curriculum for students.

“If we are going to prepare them for college,” he said, “it makes no sense to let them coast through high school.”

Winstead said he wants to “raise the bar from kindergarten on up. Expectations are 99 percent of the game.”

He sees it as the school system’s role to address the needs of all students and cited his belief that on the performance scale “the kids in the middle are taken care of. The kids on the top and bottom” sometimes come up short.

He said he wants to establish a “culture of expectations” that accepts “no excuses.”

Winstead said he has extensive experience in budgeting and capital planning, both of which will loom large as issues in Maryville’s future.

The review

At Monday night’s session, the school board compared the candidates’ words and records on nearly a dozen criteria dealing with whether the candidate is a good listener, is committed to long-range planning, has strong analytical and problem-solving skills, is an effective communicator and spokesperson, adapts readily to change, can generate community support, is fiscally responsible and has a vision for the future.

At the Dec.17 meeting, school board Chairman Carolyn McAmis said, the members will select one of the three to offer the position to. The candidate’s acceptance would follow, and compensation will be based on education and experience, she said.

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