Madison school board starts search process after accepting Dee Fowler’s resignation

MADISON, Ala. - It was a sad moment for Madison school board members Wednesday, as they voted to approve Madison City Schools Superintendent Dee Fowler's resignation.

He sat down with WHNT News 19's Jerry Hayes for an interview ahead of the meeting where he would make it official. He's on to a job with the state superintendent of education's office, where he will serve as its deputy superintendent and the superintendent's chief of staff.

"It is with mixed emotions that I submit for the Board's consideration, my resignation," Fowler said Wednesday night.

The Board's Reaction

Before voting unanimously, each board member shared kind words about Fowler and his impact on the school system. Fowler is the second ever Madison superintendent, serving for ten years.

"I'm going to try to get through this without crying," said Connie Cox Spears. "Dee, you are the best of the best, and the state department is very lucky to have you move down there. The state of Alabama is lucky that you are going there. I can only see a very very very bright future for our state in education. I think the sky's the limit. I think you will bring innovative programs like you have in Madison, you will mentor and help people and school systems blossom and grow."

Board members said while they're sad to see him go, they're proud of him.

"We think he'll do a wonderful job," said board president Terri Johnson.

Renae Bartlett added, "If you gotta go, you want to go on circumstances where everyone is saying, 'Boy, we really hate to see you go.' And so, I wish you Godspeed."

Fowler shared that he'd like his legacy to be one of helping others achieve. "Hopefully people will look back and say, he had high expectations and he tried to develop character and courage in others," he said.

Interim Superintendent Options

The Madison City Schools Board of Education must now choose an interim superintendent. Fowler's last day is November 30, and the interim will take office December 1st. They also have to proceed in searching for someone to fill the permanent job.

Wednesday, the board decided whoever becomes interim superintendent would not be eligible to apply for the permanent job. With that in mind, they agreed to approach former Decatur City Schools superintendent Ed Nichols to take on the temporary role.

"He's a well-respected educator and superintendent, and just a nice guy. He's a person we feel like we'd be very comfortable working with," commented Johnson.

She said Nichols has already expressed initial interest in taking the interim job, but he had one request about making it to work in the mornings: "He's right there in Decatur, he would still be able to live at home," she explained, "but he did tell me that if, and he certainly knows he hasn't been offered the position yet, but if he came he wanted permission to continue taking his daughter to school every morning. That is one of the conditions he asked for."

The board agreed to approach him with the job, and develop a contract. They have scheduled a special meeting for Friday, November 4, at noon, and hope he will sign on then as consultant until Fowler leaves and then interim superintendent through the search for permanent job candidates.

The Search Begins

The board also decided how to handle the search for a permanent superintendent to replace Fowler. They want to handle as much of it themselves as they can without relying on a search firm to do it.

Board members said time is of the essence, and they'd like to have a superintendent chosen well before the May 31, 2017 deadline. They need to have a new one within the next six months.

The board attorney will receive applications, explained Johnson, so that the applicants' names can remain private. The board will examine the candidates after that.

Johnson said the board is juggling lots of difficult things, including mediation with Limestone County over tax money and overcrowding in elementary schools, with its high schools also unbalanced. That's why they want to have this decision done with quickly.

"Rezoning is always a nervous time in our community, so we want to have a permanent superintendent on board to help us with that," Johnson commented.

Still, the job posting needs to be created and distributed. The board needs to decide what to put in it, what kind of person they are looking for, and how much they would like to pay that person. They plan to also establish a timeline for the application process later this month at their November 17 meeting.

Board members expect, once the job is posted, that many candidates from around the state and region will be interested in applying.

"I think that the work we've done here hasn't been unnoticed, and it seems like a great place to come and work," said Johnson.