By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
BIRMINGHAM — The Jefferson County Board of Education has chosen Dr. Steven Nowlin, the superintendent of the Lee County Schools system, as its next superintendent.
Nowlin was chosen from among three finalists in a special meeting Thursday. The vote was 4-1, with member Jacqueline Smith voting no.
Nowlin will replace Dr. Phil Hammonds, who is retiring early next year after nine years as the system’s head man.
Board member Tommy Little was very complimentary of Nowlin before the vote was taken. “What stuck out from the very beginning was his instructing other superintendents,” Little said. “We’ve used him here in evaluating Dr. Hammonds in the past.”
Board member Ronald Rhodes said Nowlin had a good grasp of the Jefferson County financial situation, and Karen Nix remarked about his knowledge of the system’s feeder patterns. Smith, despite voting against Nowlin, said that he “brings a certain comfort level … he would be a very good fit for us.”
Nowlin was chosen over Dr. Karyn Green of Fort Wayne, Indiana, superintendent of the East Allen County system; and Dr. Alan Dale Robbins, a retired associate superintendent from the Gwinnett County system in suburban Atlanta.
Board President Jennifer Parsons said board members had pretty much narrowed their choices to Nowlin and Green beforehand, but that even she wasn't sure exactly how the vote would come down until it was taken.
"I think one thing that favored [Nowlin] was that he had experience in dealing with the way Alabama finances its schools," Parsons said. "Dr. Green was very impressive and runs a very diverse system. She had to deal with closing schools [because of the economy], but the way that Indiana finances its schools is very different from ours."
Nix said other factors entered into her support of Nowlin.
"My main reason for choosing him was that he brought a balance of experience on both the administrative and the instructional side," Nix said. "Dr. Green was very strong on the administrative side, but I didn't feel like she was as strong on cirriculum. [Dr. Robbins] was just the opposite. Dr. Nowlin has been responsible for the entire picture."
Nix said Nowlin's knowledge of Alabama's school-financing peculiarities was not as much of a factor for her as with fellow board members. "I think Dr. Green could have learned that pretty easily," Nix said.
The board had previously trimmed its list of candidates from five to three after an initial interview process. One of the two who was eliminated at that time was Gardendale resident Dr. Julie Hannah, an executive with the Alabama Department of Education who had previously served as an interim deputy superintendent for JefCoEd. Hannah was the only one of the original five candidates with any ties to the county system.
Parsons said she expects Nowlin to be in place at the central office just after New Year's Day.
[UPDATED at 4:30 p.m. Friday to add Nix's comments, from an interview that afternoon.]