HALL COLUMN: Next school chief will face the fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

In his first career, he is best known as the superintendent of the Tuscaloosa County School District, a job for which he was lauded.

Now retired, Dr. Hyche is a consultant for districts across Alabama. Retired, however, is a relative description.

One night last week, he came to Demopolis to brief the board of education on the search for their next superintendent. It was his third stop of the day. That was a Monday evening. On that following Tuesday, his work day began at 7 a.m.

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His fingerprints are all over Marengo County, as he has advised all three districts &045; Demopolis, Linden and the county &045; in various matters.

Marengo County Superintendent Luke Hallmark and Demopolis High School Principal Dr. Isaac Espy were both hired into their current positions after undergoing a thorough interview process by Hyche.

While one might assume that would give them a leg up, it probably won’t. Hyche has a reputation for being thorough in his interviewing, surprising in his questions and pointed in his follow-ups. So knowing what to expect in one interview will likely do little good for the next one.

Jim Stanford, a member of the Demopolis school board, joked with Hyche last week about the interview process that ultimately ended with the hiring of Espy.

Hyche replied simply.

Hyche will conduct the interviews on behalf of the board, who will of course be present. Each interview will take place in an open forum.

Some might find it odd that a board would depend on an outsider to actually conduct the interview. To conduct background checks? Sure. To sift through the applicants and weed out the underqualified? No problem.

But to do the grilling on behalf of the men and women who make the ultimate decisions regarding the school district?

You bet.

It is no different than a large corporation hiring a human resources firm to assist with the hiring of upper management positions. That is a common practice. Often corporate leaders understand that while they know how to conduct the business of their industry, getting to the essence of an applicant through an interview process is every bit of a specialty as are their abilities.

In this case, Hyche has developed a system to help bring to the forefront the skills most needed for a person to be a successful superintendent. Before board members ever entertain questions about the minutia of the position, they will already have a good idea of how capable a candidate will be at handling the superintendent’s job.

For Hyche’s part, he believes a candidate must first and foremost be an effective manager before they can be a good instructional leader for the district.

Therefore, his objective, to use his words, is to &8220;separate the sheep from the goats by asking tough questions.&8221;

Knowing this philosophy will be applied by the interviewer should be reassuring to all. For sure, descerning one’s management philosophy is not an easy task, and therefore questions must be carefully crafted to reveal more than pat responses to &8220;How would you handle this or that situation&8221; questions.

Those who have seen Hyche work before say his questions are designed to illicit questions that offer just that kind of insight.

That said, Hyche is said to be fair in his approach. The interview process is a high-pressure situation because of the level of importance of the position being filled. But Hyche said he does not seek to make the experience any more stressful.

To ensure fairness, Hyche asks each candidate the same questions. Given the complexity of the questions, it would be hard for people to &8220;steal&8221; the questions and &8220;memorize an answer&8221;.

There are no &8220;right or wrong&8221; answers. The answers given by candidates, however, will offer board members the opportunity for real insight into the philosophies of those who seek to succeed Dr. Wesley Hill.

And replacing Hill is a daunting task. Hill has spent nearly three decades leading this school system. During his tenure, Demopolis schools have met the challenges of an ever-changing Black Belt region. We have many tasks still at hand, but the system is well-positioned to address them, to meet new challenges and to continue to expand its efforts as our city and the communities around it grow.

Sam R. Hall is editor and publisher of The Times. He can be reached by e-mail to sam.hall@demopolistimes.com.