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Tennessee hires search firm to find next leader of its school turnaround district

Tennessee has hired a Texas-based search firm to help find the next superintendent for its state-run Achievement School District.

K-12 Search Group is building a pool of candidates to present to the State Department of Education over the next few months, the department spokeswoman Sara Gast confirmed Tuesday.

The eventual hire will replace Malika Anderson, who stepped down as the ASD’s chief in September, just months after the state overhauled the ASD’s structure and cut its staff in half. In the meantime, the interim superintendent is Kathleen Airhart, the department’s deputy commissioner and chief operations officer.

Gast said the state is using philanthropic funding, rather than state money, for the group’s services. She said the final amount has yet to be determined but would be a based on a percentage of the future superintendent’s first year salary  (Anderson’s salary was $190,000 a year).

The next ASD superintendent will oversee turnaround efforts at 32 academically low-performing schools, the majority of which are run by charter organizations in Memphis.

Created in 2012, the ASD has sought to quickly improve the state’s 5 percent of lowest-achieving schools but has been woefully short of its goals, according to research. ASD schools are meant to return to their local districts after spending two consecutive years off of the state’s list for low-performing schools, or “priority list,” but none have met that benchmark yet. The next leader will be charged with changing that trajectory.

The K-12 Search Group has worked largely with charter schools and education nonprofit organizations and is not a stranger to the ASD. The state used the firm in 2015 to recruit Tim Ware to oversee the ASD’s five direct-run schools. (Ware left the district in this summer’s restructuring).

Gast said the group has been meeting with stakeholders to identify characteristics wanted in a new superintendent. The job description listed on the K-12 Search Group’s website reflects that initial feedback.

Notably, the description calls for the future superintendent to spend the majority of the work week in Memphis, and part of their responsibilities for the first year would be to “work with state officials, operators, and local districts to establish plans that will support the successful transition of schools no longer in priority status back into the local district.”

You can read the full job description below:

Editor’s note: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated the number of schools in the ASD. There are 32.