COLUMBIA — Five candidates have applied to lead Lexington-Richland Five's school district six months after the high-profile departure of Christina Melton, but its acting superintendent appears to have an inside track for the job.
“I think it’s a waste of time to interview anyone, because we’re just trying to make sure he’s the right candidate when I feel like he already is,” trustee Nikki Gardner said Nov. 15 of Akil Ross, who was tapped to lead the 17,500-student district July 1 following Melton’s resignation.
While the board is not obligated to conduct a search, Ross asked for that process to ensure his readiness for the post was compared to other prospects.
An initial wave of interviews will be conducted in December. A district spokeswoman said names of three finalists would be made public once trustees narrow their choices. There was no immediate timetable given for when the next superintendent is to be named.
Trustee Rebecca Blackburn-Hines praised Ross’ leadership but brought up concerns about the hiring strategy implemented by her colleagues.
“One of the things that was said was that it was important he was interviewed against competitive candidates, and I don’t believe that we’ve done a proper search within our state,” she said. “I don’t think that we can properly select the best superintendent without the right applicant pool.”
Part of the reason why that field may be so scant, officials acknowledged, has to do with the upheaval that followed Melton’s surprise separation.
She abruptly resigned from her post on June 30, agreeing to a $226,000 settlement. She was named the 2022 S.C. Association of School Administrators’ Superintendent of the Year but had to relinquish the award when the left the district.
No one has said why Melton quit after three years as superintendent, but emails now being made public show that trustees had begun to lose faith in her leadership months earlier, especially over issues with the district’s COVID mask requirements.
One trustee threatened to censure Melton after district attorneys called for reinstating a mask rules lifted by the board. Another trustee called considered her slow response to his questions as “insubordination.”
Melton on Sept. 1 became the state Department of Education's director of assessment.
At that same June 14 meeting where Melton announced her plans, trustee Ed White resigned in protest, later saying the popular leader was forced out by the board. Ross was hired June 22 to take over. He was named the 2018 National Secondary Principal of the year while leading Chapin High School.
Ross is making $175,000 annually through HeartEd, an Irmo-based educational consulting firm he owns.
Andrea White, the district’s attorney who was asked to lead the search, said typically about 40 people would apply for the opening, which was advertised for two weeks in the American Association of Public School Administrators along with its state chapter.
“Due to the circumstances surrounding where we are, I think that's why we got five,” she said Nov. 15.
Gardner said she was ready to vote for Ross on the spot.
“It’s been very high-profile that we lost a superintendent, and so anybody who wants to be in this district is probably watching it since June 15,” she said. “So it's not like a surprise that we put it out I think anybody who felt like that they had a chance did apply.”