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Simmons Says: WCHS Principal Hot Board



Mark June 6 on your calendars forever more. Today will be the day when people remember that things completely changed at Warren County High School.

Director of Schools Grant Swallows delivered bombshell news this morning when he alerted the school system that WCHS executive principal Clark George will be moved to a district position and that all academy principal positions will be posted once George’s job is filled.


For those who aren’t reading that clearly (and I didn’t really grasp the full weight on my first read): Warren County High School is about to embark on a hiring process for ALL of its principal positions in the next few weeks. Any person who held one of the titles last year, executive principal (George) or academy principal (what many used to refer to as an assistant principal), currently isn’t 100 percent guaranteed to hold the same position this fall.


That’s colossal – my sports brain can barely process. I would say it’s almost like when a new owner buys a team and clears the whole staff – coaches, general managers, everybody – then decides who is going to be team president and works with them to fill all the other important positions of leadership.

Make no mistake: Swallows has navigated some crazy situations since taking over in May 2020 (including COVID changing the world), but this may be his biggest move ever in terms of putting his mark on the school system.


In my best effort to let everybody know I can break more than just sports news, I can tell you that Swallows informed the WCHS staff early this morning. The executive principal job has also been posted on the Warren Schools website.

Here is the statement Swallows sent to the WCHS staff:


“I am sorry to write to you all this morning and disturb your summer. I wanted to let you know that I have made a decision that will cause change at WCHS. I am transferring Mr. George to a district position that allows him to focus on helping lead the work of instruction specifically for 9-12. He has led WCHS with courage and conviction over the last three years and for that I am thankful. This change is meant to help our district and our high school meet some of the unique challenges that persist in this current environment. I know that change is hard. I know that uncertainty is hard. However, I believe that by working together we can find our way. The principal position will be posted today. Once that decision is made, I will be posting the Academy Principal positions in order to allow for a team to be built that meets the needs of our school. All of those positions will follow the district hiring process and are open to any that want to apply. As always, I welcome your input as we move forward to serve our students in Warren County well.”


So, who will be the next principal? I’m glad you were wondering – you know I love making hot boards when big jobs open in Warren County, so let’s throw a dart at the hot board and try to decide who could take over at WCHS.


Just a disclaimer:

I’m not announcing that ANY of the following people are planning on applying for the job. This is just an educated guess of what the options could be.

Also, I know most people through sports so that is how I perceive them, but just know that they’re all educators first and foremost. My categories are just crafted through creativity, not in a way to categorize the person.


Promotable Principals (in house)

Anna Geesling, Stan Jacobs, Penny Shockley, Julie Wood

In gathering information on the current staff, these are the four who held principal titles in the 2021-22 school year (Kristie Rogers was the fifth but is it my understanding she had already made plans to retire).

All head up different aspects of education as academy principals, while Rogers was over the freshmen class. It stands to reason any of these people would conceivably put their name in the hat now that the big job is open.

Wood, Jacobs and Shockley have been in administration positions for years, while Geesling just got the bump recently. I don’t know if longevity in a principal position will matter much right now – all these academy jobs are going to be revisited soon too.


Promotable Principals (county level)

Kim Cantrell, Pam Cowen, Rex Crabtree, Shelia Gann, Rachael Graves, Monti Hillis, Michelle Lewis, Alisa Rice, Brandy Wilcher


Here are all the people currently serving at principals at county schools, not counting Franklin Fisher (leader of Warren Academy, where he works on a 120-day contract). I’m sure many are happy at their current schools and won’t decide to throw their hat in the ring. I just wanted to be thorough and take a look at who could have principal experience in Warren County on their resume should they apply.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t note Courtney Bennett serves as the director of virtual learning for the Warren Connect program. Bennett was a previous candidate for Director of Schools, so she would be used to going through the interview process for high-profile jobs in the system.


Crabtree (Eastside), Graves (Hickory Creek), Rice (WCMS) and Wilcher (Irving College) just completed their first years with their schools, so unless they saved their moving boxes and want to go through another round of interviews, it feels like they’re a safe bet to stay put.


I don’t have a read on the other current principals, though it feels like – based on previous hires when the WCHS job opened up – that it would be surprising to see somebody jump from a K-8, 6-8 or K-5 school to the high school. I also know there are certain teaching positions where you have to be certified for a certain level, but it’s my understanding any principal with K-12 certification can apply.



Athletics to Administration

Todd Willmore, Phillip King, Anthony Lippe, Danny Fish


Now we are in my wheelhouse! Again, these are just educated guesses, but I think these guys have all shown a certain degree of interest in being a high level position of administration in the past.


Willmore, the longtime athletic director, was in the first class that graduated the ‘Principal Pipeline’ program in 2018 (we’ll get to more on that later). Lippe did the same in 2019 before state funding shut down the program.

Willmore just stepped down as WCHS girls soccer coach, lightening his load (albeit, he did accept the WCMS girls job, so it’s not like he’s free this fall). I don’t know if he could serve as both principal and AD, or if he’d want to, so I don’t know what he’ll do. I’m keeping my eyes on this one.


King has been a department head in several stops in the past (and may have been an assistant principal as well). He’s been in the business for a long time – I could see him in one of the Academy positions, if not the head job.

Fish is right off the boat, so to speak, in Warren County, but why not go all out? Could he be a guy who leaps right into a leadership position? Man, I love stuff like this.




Principal Pipeline Program

Shea Panter, Haley Wood, Tenara Martin, Stephanie Davis, Jacob Dunn and Tia Medley


In 2017, the Tennessee Department of Education offered a grant to set up a Principal Pipeline program. It’s purpose was stated as this:

Tennessee is the first state in the country to lead a comprehensive approach to developing transformational school leaders, with multiple programs aligning to evidence-based, promising practices and a unique statewide focus on strengthening the leadership pipeline. The department's goal is to ensure that transformational principal leadership pipelines are launched and supported in every region so that the new leader openings each year in Tennessee – usually around 260-270 – have strong candidates ready to be hired.

The above listed all completed the local Pipeline Program (Crabtree, Geesling, Willmore, Wilcher and – ironically – Clark George all did as well) in the two-year run. My best hunch: I don’t think you go through a process that would be putting you on the path to be a principal with no interest in actually being a principal when the jobs open up.


Martin just took an assistant principal job at Hickory Creek, so that feels like her new path. I don’t know if Wood would go to WCHS either. Dunn could be of interest – he’s already at WCHS. Panter has been at the central office for a while, but she’s a name I’d circle too.


Wild cards

Autumn Turner, Tabetha Sullens, Chris Hobbs, Farrah Griffith, unknown candidate X


Let’s get real spicy – how crazy would it be if Autumn Turner took over at WCHS after being a runner-up for Director of Schools when Swallows was hired in 2020? I don’t know if she’d ever do it, but I know she has BIG FANS in the school system and has a good reputation in the academic world.


Sullens is another interesting name who I’d want on the radar if I was making the decision. She has a decorated background as a leader at private institutions, but has local ties.


Hobbs is a Warren County guy who has operated outside of the county for years, including different stops as a principal at area high schools. It feels long overdue that he would get back to his roots, though he may be comfortable in the leadership positions he already occupies.


Griffith rose to a high level in White County after leaving Warren County, including a stint as principal at White County Middle School. I don’t know if she’d make a move back – she just accepted a new job, so she may already be on her new career journey.


Speaking of White County – I think that’s an area I’d watch for in the event an unknown candidate arises for the WCHS job (or any subsequent jobs that come open). Swallows came to town from White County, so he knows the personnel there well. It also should be noted that Swallows is a long-time member of the TSSAA board, so he’s had contact with hundreds of people throughout the state.

 

There are probably many people I’ve missed and dozen more who will throw their hat in the ring, but I know I’m going to be interested in seeing how this unfolds. As a closing, I’ll just say this: It’s already June 6 and the 2022-23 school year is going to be here before we know it. Decisions like this don’t come easy, but I don’t know if you can make wholesale changes like this without having a plan in place for how to move forward.


I’m not saying that anybody has been promised jobs or that the upcoming interview process will be a sham, but I don’t think this is a scattershot process. Swallows and the school board must have had their scopes out and there must be people who are going to go right to the top of the pile if their resumes fly in. I have a guess of how it will shake out, but I’m going to save it like Kevin Costner did his No. 1 pick in Draft Day.


I’ll write down on my phone and date it in Notes with a time stamp – if I’m right, you may see me share it. If I’m not, then you’ll never know who I had in mind. I'll say this - their name is mentioned aove.


I can't stress this enough, this is a personal column and in no way am I reporting any of the previous names are applying for the job. People have a deep mistrust for reporting now and it's because so many in this profession pass off their opinion as actual fact. I'm telling you - IN ALL BOLD - THIS IS MY OPINION ON WHO COULD BE UP FOR THE JOB.


If you want more information like this on the WC Sports Authority website, reach out to wcsportsauthority@gmail.com and let me know you made it to the last sentence of this column.

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