Huntsville City School Board ends superintendent search, selects interim Christie Finley as choice

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - In an eventful meeting, the Huntsville City School Board chose Christie Finley as new superintendent.  Finley has served as the interim superintendent since Matt Akin's departure.

Thursday, the school board planned to discuss the selection of the superintendent, now that they have closed the application period. Instead, they ended up choosing a superintendent without any candidates interviewing for the job. The vote to choose Finley was 4-1, with Pam Hill voting against.

"Thank you, board members. Thank you, Huntsville City Schools," said Finley during her comment time after the vote. "I am humbled and blessed as a parent, as a colleague."

Finley thanked teachers and administrators for their hard work and urged parents to continue supporting schools and the team that educates their children.

"We are all in this together," Finley said. "You will be hearing about the strategic plan. We will keep a focus, and that is on the students."

How the Vote Happened

Elisa Ferrell, Board President, opened up the discussion about how to conduct the superintendent interviews. The district recently received 10 applications for the job and would need to narrow down the list. Ferrell said they had originally talked about choosing a Top 3 and narrowing from there during in-person interviews, but Thursday was the time to sort it out.

Board member Pam Hill then suggested extending the application window 2 additional weeks to August 24 so they could open the search to the entire nation.

"We are not ready to pick someone because we didn't advertise," Hil noted.

She made a motion, and Michelle Watkins seconded, but it failed 2-3.

Ferrell then began to talk about how to do the interviews, but Hill accused the other board members of already knowing who they wanted to choose.

"I'm not being ugly, but you already know who is going to be the next superintendent so why don't we just vote on it now?" she asked. "I'm serious. Because you're just wasting my time if we are going to bring people here and interview them for 2 days when it has already been decided who is going to be the next superintendent."

Hill then moved to vote on Finley as the next superintendent, "right now." Walker McGinnis seconded the motion.

"I do think maybe somebody should work up a contract," Hill suggested before the vote. Finley was named superintendent during a 4-1 vote. Hill was the only vote against.

Board Reaction

Hill, who voted against choosing Finley, made it clear that she does believe Finley has done a good job as interim superintendent. She seemed to object more to the process of how Finley was chosen.

"I just think that for once we've been transparent. It's kind of sad, really sad. No reflection on Christie, just on this board," Hill said.

"This school system has gone through change after change after change for the past 2 years," said Michelle Watkins, "and we need somebody who is dedicated to this district." She said she chose Finley because she is ready to go. "I think Christie is going to do a fabulous job. If I didn't, I would have never, ever voted for her to be superintendent. I have confidence we are going to turn it around."

"Ms. Finley and I go way back," said board member Beth Wilder. "I was happy we went ahead and did this because I looked at the applications. We had a lot of qualified applicants. But one thing they don't have are the roots that you have in this town, in this system. I know your character. I know you always consistently put students first."

"I do appreciate the job that Mrs. Finley has been doing. She has certainly convinced me that she can handle this job. She knows the system, she knows the people, and the people respect her. That's going to go a long way," said Walker McGinnis.

What's Next

Board President Elisa Ferrell said that for the time being, Finley is operating as superintendent without a contract. Because the vote happened so quickly, there was not time to draw one up.

"We will be discussing with the attorneys what the next step is to get a contract in place," said Ferrell.

The board will also need to determine a salary offer for Finley too.

About Finley

Previously Finley worked as the district's Deputy Superintendent of Strategy and Innovation. She has been in the education field for more than 20 years. It has been part of her daily job to work with technology and oversee the critical process of complying with the district's consent order in a federal desegregation case.

She became interim superintendent to fill the vacancy left as Superintendent Matt Akin transitioned from leading Huntsville City Schools to heading the new Gulf Shores City Schools system.