School superintendent search progresses in Jackson

Jackson County is getting closer to choosing a replacement for former school superintendent Mike Murray after school board members held a four-hour meeting last week to sort through resumés.

A call for applications turned up 18 candidates, with about five of those from inside North Carolina and the remainder from out of state. The board held a closed meeting Jan. 3 to look through those applications, choosing the top five to invite for an interview.

“You can read what’s on paper, but until you actually have a one-on-one with them, it’s hard to really tell the quality,” said Ken Henke, chairman of the Jackson County School Board.

Acting Superintendent Kim Elliott, Ph.D., who served as assistant superintendent under Murray, applied for the job and progressed to the interview phase. When asked about Elliott’s performance, Henke said that she is doing an “excellent job.”

The board is in the process of scheduling two days of interviews for Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 24 and 25. Henke said they hope to be able to make a final decision based on those interviews but might travel to talk in person with top choices’ references, should they find themselves with additional questions or concerns.

According to the advertisement for the position, the new superintendent must have strong leadership, communication, planning, management, budgeting and community partnership abilities. Candidates with prior experience or a doctoral degree are preferred, with the chosen candidate required to live in Jackson County upon assuming the position.

“We want most of all to be able to show leadership in terms of helping our students to move forward,” Henke said. “We don’t want to go backward — we want to move forward. We want the best fit that we can find for our staff and for our faculty and sort of an all-around person. We want them to fit well within our community, because we are a community-oriented educational institution.”

Henke said the board will likely announce the new superintendent at its Feb. 27 meeting, though depending on how the process goes selection could be delayed until the March 27 meeting. The school board would then want the new superintendent to start the job as soon as possible, with July 1 being the latest possible start date.

“We want the individual to come on board so they can really familiarize themselves with Jackson County,” Henke said. “They’re also having to come into the county to have residence in the county, so they’ll have to be house hunting and then it all depends on their contract that they have, how much notice they have to give to their board.”

The superintendent search has been underway since Murray announced in May of last year that he’d be leaving the Jackson school system after six years as its leader to take the superintendent’s job at Cherokee Central School. The plan was to keep Elliott as acting superintendent for six months to a year so the board could complete a thorough and unhurried search process for Murray’s permanent replacement.

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