Board to hire Cox as superintendent
Pending contract approval, the Russellville City Schools Board of Education ended months of speculation about the hiring of the system's next superintendent by unanimously choosing Interim Superintendent Don Cox during a search committee work session Monday afternoon.
The board, which conducted a 45-minute interview of Cox during its meeting, also gave Steve DeFoor, board member and search committee chair, and Greg Trapp, school board president, the authority to negotiate the superintendent contract with the assistance of board attorney Danny McDowell. Board members will officially vote on Cox's hiring and contract during a 4 p.m. called meeting Thursday at the central office.
"My goal is to make this system the best it can be and educate all the students the best that we can, and our focus has always been and will continue to be student achievement because that's why we're here," said Cox, a Hamilton native and graduate of the University of Alabama whose wife, Patricia, teaches health and physical education at Russellville High School. "You wear a lot of hats with this job – administrator, supporter and even cheerleader – because you have to use your ability to move people in a common direction.
"I just want to say how much gratitude I have for the people who have come to me and encouraged me to apply for this position. I'm ready to go, and I'm thankful for the support from the school board and the people in this community."
Cox, who has served as an assistant superintendent for the system since 2000 and was previously a teacher, coach and administrator at RHS for 20 years, was named acting superintendent during the Dec. 18 board meeting after last month's retirement of Dr Wayne Ray. Ray had previously announced his retirement, which will officially take effect this April due to accrued vacation and sick leave, prior to the start of the school year last fall.
The board, which was not required to conduct a search and set a Feb. 6 deadline to fill the vacancy, officially discussed the position beginning last September and accepted applications until mid-January. Since its inception in 1929, the city school system has had only four superintendents – R.C. Thomas, Dr. Rube Courington, Dr. Robert Clemmons and Ray. Both Clemmons (1992) and Ray (2007) were chosen as the Alabama Superintendent of the Year by their peers.
"I'm honored to be chosen because I do know the type of leadership this school system has had the last 80 years," said Cox, a member of both the Marion County and Alabama High School Athletic Association halls of fame and the AHSAA Central Board of Controls. "There's an old saying of having huge shoes to fill … I've been fortunate to work with and learn from Dr. Ray, who has been my mentor for the past 28 years, Dr. Clemmons and Dr. Courington. They all had their own leadership style, and they all left behind a great legacy."
Four applications were submitted, but only two applicants – Cox and Webster (Ga.) County Superintendent Dr. James Stevens – were selected for interviews with the committee when the applications were officially opened Jan. 16. Stevens, who has 29 years of experience as a teacher and administrator, decided not to interview for the position upon learning the committee had decided to hire immediately and locally, according to DeFoor.
"We were going to interview Mr. Stevens after the last board meeting (Jan. 22), but it's painfully obvious that we need a superintendent right away," DeFoor said. "Mr. Cox is a local candidate and qualified, and with the things we're facing, we need someone with his expertise.
"We would be wise to employ a local person over an outside person, and I appreciate (Stevens') attitude that we needed a local person for the job."
DeFoor said the committee performed a regional search to fill the position, but was confident that Cox was prepared for the promotion.
"I want you to understand that we did a diligent search across the Southeast to find the best possible superintendent, but we have raised in our system many of our superintendents," said DeFoor while addressing Cox during the conclusion of his interview. "I think you have come a long way in 28 years, and I think you're ready to be superintendent."
Ray, who spent 43 1/2 years in the Russellville system and eight years as superintendent, said he believes the board made the right decision in choosing Cox.
"I'm just delighted, and I think it's an excellent choice," Ray said. "He's ready, and he's been through the superintendent academy, been to all the meetings, is up to date on finances of this system and knows all the personnel here.
"I think he's the best man for the position, and I have all the confidence that the system will soar to even greater heights even in the face of the difficult economic times we're going through, but we'll make it.
"He's been right there with me the last three to four months in preparation (for next year's expected budget cuts), and he knows exactly every funding piece and is trying to be as ready for it as possible."
During his interview, Cox listed modernizing the labs at RHS and providing more classrooms at RMS as the most pressing capital projects needed by the system. He also pledged support for the career tech programs, national certification for teachers to teach dual-enrollment classes, Helping Families community initiative, retaining system graduates for employment and increasing employee diversity.
Cox said despite the many challenges facing the school system, he's eager to have the opportunity to solve them with the help of his fellow administrators.
"Since 1929, the tradition has been special here, and my vision is to carry on that tradition and carry it further," he said. "There are a lot of challenges out there that I want to meet, and I believe in a leadership team to solve them because I know I don't have all the answers.
"The first thing I would like to do is get our principals and central office staff together and look at our (system's) strengths and weaknesses, but I don't think you'll see a lot of changes immediately because I want us to move slowly and allow people to adjust to anything new.
"We're proud of all our facilities and programs, but the people here make the difference, and they're what make the Russellville system special."