Roane County Schools selected Coffee County Director of Schools Dr. LaDonna McFall as their new director of schools during the Board of Education meeting last night, Wednesday, April 3, with a vote of 6-4. She beat her opponent Thomas Sisk, superintendent of Limestone County Schools in Alabama.
Roane County board members Rob Jago, Mike Miller, Larry Brackett, Danny Wright, Hugh Johnson and Mike Taylor voted McFall. The remaining four, Sam Cox, Darrell Langley, Vic King and board chair Nadine Jackson, picked Sisk.
Immediately following the vote, the board voted unanimously to enter into contract negotiations with McFall. Jackson expects to have more information regarding negotiations during their next meeting on Thursday, April 11.
"We’re just very happy to have someone with Dr. McFall’s experience in Tennessee and the fact that she’s been a leader of the school district and has a very proven record," Jackson said. "I think, in the end, her passion for children came through loud and clear and that made her the best choice for the district."
According to the Roane County News, the district's previous director, Leah Rice Watkins, chose to resign in 2018-19, with a salary of $128,000, to take a director's position in another county. Following Watkin's resignation, Gary Aytes, the former director, was selected to serve as interim Director of Roane County Schools.
Roane County School District encompasses 17 area schools, including six elementary schools, five middle schools, five high schools and one education center. The school district is located about 40 minutes east of Knoxville, Tenn.
McFall did not wish to comment.
"Dr. McFall has done some great things for the Coffee County Schools and our community. We wish her continued success at Roane County, and will begin to discuss the terms of the her departure transition and the timeline for hiring a new Director at our work session Monday," said Coffee County Board of Education Chair Brett Henley.
Timeline of events
Last month, on Thursday, March 14, during the school board retreat, McFall told board members she was interested in entering negotiations with them only if the board began to focus more on the school district moving forward and not rumors or anonymous letters and complaints.
“I want to work as a professional board and professional move forward,” McFall said at the March board retreat. “I don’t want to spend hours discussing an anonymous letter or have my folks constantly second guessed. Yes, I want to talk about an extension, but I do want to talk about what that looks like.”
On Monday, April 1, McFall notified the Coffee County School board that she was no longer interested in pursuing a contract extension with Coffee County. This news came two days before her second round of interviews with Roane County, against Sisk.
McFall was originally the district’s third choice and was not set to appear in the final round of interviews. Then, finalist and former Motlow College President Anthony Kinkel pulled his name from contention, putting McFall in the running.
The Coffee County Board of Education discussed the timeline for McFall’s transition and for filling the director’s position during a work session at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 8 in the Coffee County board room.
Teacher associations’ split views
The Coffee County branch of the Professional Educators of TN (PET) supported McFall while a majority of the Coffee County Education Association (CCEA) did not.
J.C. Bowman, the executive director of PET, who met McFall before her decision to step down at Coffee County was made, was impressed with her professionalism. He spoke on behalf of Megan Benton, the Coffee County PET representative.
“It’s a tremendous loss for Coffee County,” Bowman said, adding he was surprised to hear McFall no longer wished to work with Coffee County.
Bowman said she earned his respect and that of several educators in the county for her responsiveness to issues.
“She was always very receptive and professional,” he said.
PET consists of around 8,100 members statewide, about 75 of which are in Coffee County.
To McFall being selected as the new director at Roane County, Bowman said the following:
“Professional Educators of Tennessee are deeply appreciative of Dr. LaDonna McFall's commitment to the children and educators in Coffee County. She has worked tirelessly to make a positive impact on the schools, educators and students here. We have enjoyed working with her on issues of concern, and have found her receptive to ideas and suggestions of local teachers. We wish her well in her future endeavors. We know she will continue to make public education a high priority wherever the next steps in her career take her."
Coffee County’s second other teacher organization, CCEA, felt differently. In a letter sent to both the Manchester Times and the Coffee County Board of Education on Sunday, March 24, president Mike Stein revealed 71 percent of CCEA members were against McFall extending her contract, according to a survey conducted by the CCEA and Stein.
In the letter, Stein explained he heard concerns from members and veteran teachers.
“Teachers are scared for their livelihoods and their careers if they speak out against her. I don’t intend for that to be a salacious statement but, rather, one of fact, and it is supported by evidence,” he wrote in the letter.
Stein was contacted for a statement on the CCEA’s behalf about McFall leaving Coffee County and the Times is awaiting his response.
Stein did not reveal how many members are in the CCEA, but claimed it was “significant.”
“Unfortunately, the information you requested is classified. TEA and its local associations do not publish their membership numbers,” Stein told the Times.