The McMinn County Schools Board of Education elected Lee Parkison as the next Director of Schools for McMinn County at a called meeting Thursday night.
Parkison was voted from a pool of four candidates, although it was not unanimous.
School Board Member Donna Cagle nominated Parkison for Director of Schools (DOS) on a four year contract and Board Member Tony Allman seconded the nomination.
Board Member Mike Cochran was the first to express his opinion, noting that the new DOS is in a pivotal position.
“I feel like the next five years are pretty crucial for us and I see us going either way. I think that we have the potential, with the teachers we have and the staff that we have, to really become one of the top schools in the state, and I think in 18 years we could become the number one school if we put the right person in that position,” said Cochran.
Cochran explained his support for Parkison.
“To me, I like Lee, and he’s the only one that in my mind, addressed the fundamental issues that we’re going to have to deal with in order to solve some crucial issues,” he said. “That’s why he has my support and also I’ve seen through this process a lot of teachers, principals who worked well with him, alongside of him, and people who’ve worked under him who have really supported him — so I’m with that vote. Lee is my first choice.”
Mike Lowry was the next Board Member to speak, and noted that although he has made this decision in the past, the selection process for the new DOS was especially tough this year.
“I’d like to say that this is the third time I’ve been through this and this was tough. It was tough. I think we had some qualified candidates and that McMinn County Schools is fortunate to have the people who have applied. It has been a tough decision,” said Lowry.
Board Member Rob Shamblin agreed that there were qualified candidates, however, he expressed that he would like to interview the top two further, in order to address specific deficiencies and the solutions that these individuals would bring.
“I would say that we are blessed to have some very qualified candidates. Two of which, that I think really have stood out above, and personally, the 45, 55 minutes that we heard from them was a good start, but I would like to bring both of those two, in my mind, back for additional interviews and hear more specifically, give them the questions in advance and hear more specifically about how they will address certain things that we heard them discuss,” said Shamblin.
Shamblin named the specific areas he would like to gather more feedback on from the top two candidates.
“Related to our high school deficiencies; related to our middle school plan and direction and facilities and funding; related to teachers and how they take off and how they will support teachers through that process and what it looks like. Our athletic program deficiencies and the support that they would offer specifically to change the direction of our competitiveness in our facilities and their leadership plan,” said Shamblin. “Within that (leadership plan) including the CTE (Career and Technical Education) department specifically, with a good plan in industrial cooperation — that we are doing, but I think other areas, from hearing from them at the TSBA (Tennessee School Board Association) meetings, they’re taking it to a different level, above and beyond to a level that we are. I think I’d like to hear specifically from those candidates what they might bring to that and add to that.”
Recently elected Board Member Billy Manis agreed with Shamblin, noting that he, too, would like more time to interview the candidates before making the ultimate decision.
“I agree with Mr. Shamblin. There were some questions that I didn’t get answered this week, that I would like to get answers to,” said Manis.
After the discussion, Chairman of the Board Sharon Brown called for a roll call vote on the nomination for Parkison. Seven of the Board Members voted yes, but Manis casted the dissenting vote and Shamblin abstained.
Before casting his vote, Manis stated that “I would like to hear more … I vote no at this point. I’m sorry.”
Shamblin, who was the last to vote, explained his abstention. “It’s moot at this point, obviously, I think in fairness to my position, I will just abstain,” he said.
In a regular Board of Education meeting following the called meeting, Shamblin welcomed Parkison as the new DOS, but noted that he believes it is important for the School Board to strive for a unanimous vote, even if it takes more time.
“I think it sends a strong message to the new Director of Schools and our community that we’re unanimous. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get a unanimous position on that tonight. I think we could have gotten there with a little more attention to it,” said Shamblin. “But welcome, (we) certainly appreciate Mr. Parkison, and what you have presented and brought to us. I feel like that we ought to, when we have an opportunity, to strive for that unanimous (vote). If it takes a little longer, than it takes a little bit longer.”
Despite the vote not being unanimous, because a majority of the Board approved the nomination, Parkinson was announced as the new DOS, and was granted the opportunity to speak to the Board and the public.
“If you knew what was going on in my head right now, you would think I was speaking in tongues, but it’s an honor. It’s a pleasure to be able to serve. Again, as I iterated the other night, we’re here for service. We’re here for the government of McMinn County. I will strive in every way to do that,” said Parkison. “I can answer questions and concerns that you’ve had tonight. I am free to speak with any one of you at any time, at any length of time, and I will make myself available for that. Again, thank you as a Board. I thank you for your support. You won’t be disappointed and I will work for you. I promise you that. Thank all of you folks who have supported me. The staff here at the office is great, but we’ve got work to do to keep it going, and I plan to do that.”
After the called meeting, Parkison, who has been in the McMinn County Schools System for 23 years, expressed his excitement.
“I’m shocked right now, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. We have great things coming and we’re going to work to get McMinn County Schools to the top. We have great teachers, staff members, and I have all the confidence in our schools. It’s an honor, and the great support from people in the community and my family is overwhelming,” said Parkison.
After both meetings, Director of McMinn County Schools Mickey Blevins, who will maintain his position until Dec. 31, expressed his support for Parkison as the new DOS.
Blevins, who stated he has known Parkison for over 40 years, first vouched for his character and the confidence he has in Parkison.
“He has a strong work ethic, is a strong man in his Christian beliefs and integrity,” said Blevins. “He loves McMinn County Schools and I know he’s going to push McMinn to even greater achievements.
“I’m glad I have three months to work with him for a smooth transition,” Blevins added. “I think that was smart of the Board and students will benefit from this.”
Prior to moving to the McMinn County Schools System, Parkison taught multiple high school science classes, health classes, physical education, and coached football and baseball in Palatka, Florida.
During his tenure with McMinn County Schools, Parkinson has served in multiple capacities and roles. He started as a physical education teacher at Calhoun Elementary School, was assistant principal of Riceville Elementary School for two years, principal of E.K. Baker Elementary School for eight years, and is in his fifth year as McMinn County Schools student management supervisor.
Parkison is the husband of Karen Parkison, a second grade teacher at Calhoun Elementary School, and they have three children.