‘Strong bunch’ of candidates for Berkeley superintendent

Brenda Blackburn (left to right), Samuel DePaul and Jerome Stewart are finalists for the position of superintendent of the Berkeley County School District.

After a six-month search that included a false start, Berkeley County School District could have a new leader soon. The board is set this week to have one-on-one interviews with three finalists: Jerome Stewart of Midlothian, Texas; Brenda Blackburn of Montgomery County, Virginia; Samuel DePaul of Colquitt County, Georgia.

The board has been looking for a new head since January to replace former Superintendent Rodney Thompson, who in the wake of a state investigation into 2012’s Yes 4 Schools campaign asked in November to be released from his contract this summer, two years before it was set to expire. Thompson was indicted in April by the state grand jury on a misdemeanor ethics charge involving public corruption.

Assisted by the search firm of BWP & Associates, the district narrowed the field to three in April before deciding to start over when one of the candidates withdrew his name.

Board Chairman Jim Hayes said Tuesday he felt that the candidate pool had not been diluted by that effort and the second search may have yielded stronger candidates.

“I feel real good about them,” he said of the top three, which were chosen from 114 applicants. “They’re very strong. They’re all experienced. These are some people who have been through some wars. They’ve had some tough situations and we know that this district right now is in a tough situation.”

Efforts to reach the candidates this week were unsuccessful.

DePaul, who has a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, has been superintendent of Colquitt County schools since 2012. Colquitt County, with 14 schools and about 9,600 students, is about 200 miles south of Atlanta.

He has previously served in that capacity in school districts in North Carolina and at three posts in Pennsylvania, and last year was a finalist for a superintendent job in Dougherty County, New York.

He began his educational career as a biology and chemistry teacher and in addition to the above posts has also served as an assistant superintendent and high school principal.

DePaul is known for having a high profile in the community. In his first days in Colquitt, he attended civic club meetings, and met with various groups including representatives of the local chamber, law enforcement and NAACP.

Stewart was most recently superintendent of Midlothian (Texas) Independent School District, a 7,900-student district with 10 schools. He resigned in November and served the district as a consultant until January.

He has also served as superintendent at two other districts in Texas.

Stewart began his educational career as a teacher/coach in Amarillo, Texas, and also served as a high school assistant principal and principal of two middle schools and two high schools in Texas.

He also served as the pastor of Open Bible Baptist Church in Amarillo in the early 2000s.

He has a blog at drjstewart.wordpress.com where he describes himself as “Christian, husband, father, educator, writer, and photographer.”

Blackburn, current superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Christiansburg, Va., announced in April she will leave that post on Sept. 30, according to The Roanoke Times. She has led the 20-school district since 2010.

About her departure, Blackburn said, “After 44 years in education, I seek greater flexibility to pursue other opportunities and interests,” according to the district.

She has also served as associate superintendent in Brevard Public Schools in Viera, Florida. She took educational leadership certification courses at Stetson University.

She started her career as a high school history teacher and served as a teacher and counselor in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida school districts. In Florida, she also served as a Dean of Students, assistant principal, principal and area superintendent.

She is an advocate for providing students with varied opportunities at all grade levels and has worked with local institutions of higher learning to provide opportunities for students to pursue a high school diploma and associate’s degree simultaneously, according to the district website.