ROGERSVILLE — Assuming they can agree upon a salary and contract, Hawkins County's new director of schools will be making an eastward move of about 2,000 miles from Southern California to Rogersville in the coming weeks
Matt Hixson achieved an almost perfect score of 626 out of a possible 700 during his initial Oct. 12 interview with the Hawkins County Board of Education.
And the current assistant director with the San Jacinto, California, school system received a perfect seven out of seven when it counted Monday night in Rogersville in the school board’s final vote for a new director of schools.
Hixson was also the only candidate to receive an ovation after his interview from the audience, which was comprised mainly of school faculty and administrators.
Hixson will succeed Steve Starnes, who accepted the position of director of the Greeneville City School System earlier this year.
Title 1 Program Director Dr. Reba Bailey has been serving as interim director, and she received a standing ovation from the audience Monday in appreciation of her efforts.
Of the two finalists interviewed on Monday, current Limestone, Alabama, Director of Schools Dr. Thomas Sisk was interviewed first.
Both finalists were asked two questions by each of the seven board members. A video of both interviews, as well as the board's final vote, can be viewed with the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net.
Dr. Thomas Sisk’s final interview
In his opening statement, Sisk noted he's had a 30-plus year career as a classroom teacher, principal, central office administrator and superintendent.
"I think what makes me uniquely qualified is I started out as an elementary teacher, as a special ed teacher, and then I moved into secondary," Sisk said. "I have taught children grades 3-12 myself, so I understand the differences of both of those."
Sisk also noted that Alabama picks four "Schools of Excellence" every year for advancement in AP classes, and two out of the four were in Limestone County. He said it was the first time Limestone had a School of Excellence, much less two.
He also addressed negative press he has received in his home county regarding allegations of nepotism, improper dismissal of a principal and "budget woes."
Sisk said superintendents sometimes make "difficult decisions that aren't popular." He described his bad press as an online "digital tattoo."
“If you are in the public light and you make decisions, people are going to be upset," Sisk said. "If you haven't been the one to make the decision, you're not going to see anything on social media because there's nothing attached to your name."
In closing, Sisk told the BOE, "Teachers teach children, not classes. We're going to meet the child where they’re at, with the resources you allocate, and I'm going to find ways to get you more resources. ... What if I could show you a way we could improve our financial lot as a district? Maybe even bring a couple million dollars into the district? Would you be interested? I've done it, and I think I know how to do it here."
Matt Hixson’s final interview
Hixson noted that he visited schools, spoke to faculty and staff and toured the community. He told the board that Hawkins County is the right place for him, his wife Valerie, and his five children between the ages of 10 and 17.
"I would feel at home here, however, I want to be the right person for you," Hixson said. "I know that it’s the right place for me, it's the right place for my family, but this is about the next leader of Hawkins County Schools, and I really want to make sure that the right decision is made, whether it’s me or not."
Hixson added, "I have put a lot of investment of time and energy into becoming the person that I am. I will come with all my faults transparent. I will come with questions. I will come with transparent thinking. But if selected I want to be approachable to my staff, to the board, and to the community. At the end of the day, I think what I bring to the table is a person who is dedicated to building those relationships, building trust, building cooperation on common interest. We're not always going to agree, but it’s about students first, and if we all have that common goal, we can settle almost any dispute going back to that common interest."
Although Sisk received one vote during the initial informal written board ballots, the official final board vote was 7-0 in favor of Hixson.
Board Chairman Bob Larkins appointed a contract negotiation committee comprised of board members Chris Christian, Holly Helton and Debbie Shedden with a goal of having Hixson in Hawkins County and ready to go to work before the end of 2018.
Note: The video gets choppy at the beginning of the Hixson interview due to low bandwidth, but clears up about halfway through: