One of three names released by the Board of Education during its April 17 meeting will be the name of the next superintendent of McDuffie County schools.
The board named Vickie Spense, Mark Petersen and William Capehart as the finalists for superintendent. One of them will be chosen to take the helm of the school system after Ed Grisham's retirement at the end of the school year.
Ms. Spense is currently the associate superintendent of Gordon County Schools, 75 miles northwest of Atlanta. Dr. Petersen is the superintendent of schools in Lanier County, located in south-central Georgia. Dr. Capehart is superintendent of Boyd County Public Schools near the Ohio/West Virginia border in Kentucky.
"We're very pleased with how (the search) has gone. We feel like, as we've said all along, we had some very qualified candidates," said BOE Chair Tommy Phelps. "All three of the candidates have been in the community, and have visited and looked around and tried to get a better feel for our community. All three of them seem very excited to be considered."
Ms. Spense became an assistant superintendent in Gordon County in 1997. She was promoted to associate superintendent in charge of the school system's personnel and budget in 2001. She earned both of her education specialist degrees from the University of Georgia, one in elementary education and the other in administration/supervision.
For Ms. Spense, the allure of McDuffie County has a lot to do with her family. Her elderly father lives in Athens, and she was looking for a way to get closer to him. But she was also wants to be part of a united school system.
"Where we are now, we have a county system and a city system," she said. "The thought of having everybody working toward one goal is just real important to me."
Dr. Petersen has been the superintendent of Lanier County Schools for three years. He was a middle school principal in Pickens County and in Commerce prior to that. Lanier County consists of three schools and is about one-third the size of the McDuffie County system.
He feels confident about his ability to keep McDuffie County's schools afloat. In the current climate of state budget cuts, he kept Lanier County in the black, even though it is one of the poorest systems in Georgia.
Dr. Peterson, who earned his doctorate of educational leadership from UGA, also said that he and his family would welcome the opportunity to come to McDuffie.
"Thomson is a wonderful community. It has a wonderful reputation," Dr. Petersen said. "What I have is a passion for youngsters. Certainly my goal is to stay focused on students and student achievement."
Dr. Capehart has served as the superintendent of Boyd County Public Schools for five years. Boyd County has around 6,000 students compared to McDuffie's 4,300.
Dr. Capehart earned his doctorate in educational leadership and administration from West Virginia University. He has also served as a professor of education in several colleges, worked for the U.S. Department of Education and served as the state director of special education in West Virginia.
Coming to McDuffie County would be a challenge that Dr. Capehart has been looking forward to.
"I feel elated; I feel honored," Dr. Capehart said of being chosen as a finalist. "I have always had a goal in my career, and that is to be able to come into a county like McDuffie...and make a good district great."
Mr. Phelps said that the board would be selecting a superintendent from the three finalists as soon as possible. He added that there is no definite schedule for the process.
"It's hard to say a timeline right now because there are so many variables that we have no control over," Mr. Phelps said. "We're moving forward with further negotiations or meetings, but it's a two-way street. In the past, we've been totally in control, but now that we're at this stage, there's some back and forth that's got to take place."