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Phillips resigns; CMSD board prepares search process

by Brian Jones

The Columbus Municipal School District formally accepted Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips’s resignation at a special meeting Tuesday night. Phillips, who has been in the post since 2007, is leaving to become director of schools for the Sumner County Board of Education in Gallatin, Tennessee.  Sumner County officially hired Phillips Monday night; the district has nearly 30,000 students and over 40 schools.  Before coming to Columbus, he was a zone superintendent in the Springfield, Missouri school system. Phillips’s last day in Columbus will be June 11; his contract expires June 30, and he will use vacation and personal days to fill out the remainder of time here.

Phillips’s letter of resignation reads: “After four enjoyable and productive years, both personally and professionally, I have decided to tender my resignation as Superintendent of the Columbus Municipal School District effective June 30, 2011, to become Director of Schools in Sumner County, Tennessee.  This decision comes after much thought and prayer as I have truly enjoyed my tenure of service here. “I can honestly say that serving as superintendent of this school district has been one of the highlights of my professional career due to the support and encouragement from each of you.  This board has shown their support and dedication to excellence continuously by your voting record during my service to this community. “I know I don’t have to tell you, but I want to say publicly that this school district is blessed with outstanding individuals serving as administrators, teachers and staff who truly love children.  Having had the opportunity to be a part of a team with quality people who work diligently each day for children has made this job very rewarding.  It has provided me with an absolute sense of pride to have the privilege of being in this leadership position. “I know great things will continue to go on in the Columbus Municipal School District.  It has been my privilege to be a small part of a truly outstanding school district and community.”

During his tenure, Phillips oversaw the implementation of the magnet school program in the district’s elementary schools; the introduction of International Baccalaureate at the high school and Sale Elementary; and the construction of the new Columbus Middle School.  Last year he was considered for the post of state superintendent.

The board met in special session Tuesday night to both accept Phillips’s resignation and to discuss starting a new superintendent search. Upon opening the meeting, President Glenn Lautzenhiser opened the floor for comments from the board members. “I think we should thank Dr. Phillips for his leadership, vision and hard work over the last four years,” Lautzenhiser said.  “Columbus is a better place because Del Phillips came our way.  We’re a better school district.  You have raised the bar.” “You’re a tireless, fearless, ambitious visionary,” said Tommy Prude.  “Wherever you go and whatever you do, we will be with you in spirit.” “I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for this district,” said Alma Turner.  “You’re not afraid to take risks, and you’ve demonstrated a lot of courage.” “I saw Del Phillips come into this room one night with a plan,” said Bruce Hanson.  “He had thoroughly looked at our district and came up with a vision.  He has executed that plan almost to perfection.  This board has not gone kicking and screaming – we have gone willingly.” After the accolades, the board went into an hour-long executive session to discuss personnel matters.  When they emerged, they announced that the only action taken was to accept Phillips’s resignation. The trustees then turned their attention to finding a successor. “Y’all have been involved in [candidate searches] before,” Lautzenhiser said.  “There are several approaches that we can take.  We can be our own search committee.  We can appoint a couple of people to take applications and then come to the full board.  We can hire a consultant.  Tonight I’d at least like to begin the discussion of the process.” “We involved the public a great deal the last time, and it was a very, very good process,” Hanson said.  “I think that needs to be a piece of the puzzle.  I don’t think we can fall back and not do it publicly.  [During the last superintendent search, the top five candidates were interviewed publicly.  Each candidate was given a certain amount of time to make a presentation, and then fielded questions from the board.  It was a great process, and I hope that the board does so again. – Brian Jones]  I also feel strongly that we are still facing a steep climb, because we have to take the district to the next level.  The person we find must be at least equal to if not greater than the people we’ve had already.  I really think we need to find somebody who is going to find us a CEO and will really bring in the cream of the crop.” Prude felt that the board should handle the search itself. “The last two superintendents we brought in, the board conducted the search,” Prude said.  “We narrowed it down to the five best applicants and brought those five people in.  We interviewed and we selected the best candidate.  We have the whole apparatus here.  We did it before, we can do it again.  The one problem I have with headhunters, is that they bring us recommendations and we go in another direction.  I don’t think anyone can do it better than we can.  It’s worked twice.” “What about the scope of the search?” Lautzenhiser said. “I think we should look nationally and regionally,” Prude said.  “Leave no stone unturned.” The board ultimately took no action.  Lautzenhiser asked that the documents from the last search process be distributed for board members to review before making a decision.  The board will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. on May 4 at the Brandon Central Services building to further discuss the search process.

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1 comment

  1. I don’t mean to diminish the media praise for Del Phillips, but how many more people in our City’s highest paid positions are going to continue viewing Columbus as just a stepping stone to the next item on their resume’s??? Anyone can take millions of dollars of education grants and order up a new builiding with it. But, it seems to me like he was more interested in building his resume. It takes a strong leader to see a job through to its completion and stay interested in it. But I think his follow-up and personnel skills must surely be lacking since four (4)years is the longest he’s stayed anywhere. I hope four (4) years is long enough for Sumter County, Tennessee, who are replacing a life long Superintendent, because this man has made it publicly clear his ultimate goal is the State Department. I’ll wager he stays in this new job 2-4 years max… any takers?

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