Superintendent search down to three; virus delays hiring


The search for new Superintendent of Lexington County School District Three has been narrowed to three finalists, but the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has put the hiring process on hold for at least two weeks, maybe more.

Last week, the school district announced its short list of candidates from more than 20 applicants submitted to become the new Superintendent:

  • Dr. Drew “Ashley” Atkinson, Jr., currently the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in Spartanburg School District Five in Duncan;
  • Dr. Thomas G. Schmolze, currently the Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Student Services for Fort Mill Schools in York County; and
  • Dr. James Ann Sheley, currently the Assistant Superintendent for Schools for Richland School District Two in Columbia.

Following a brief executive session at its Tuesday, March 10 meeting, the Lexington Three School Board of Trustees voted unanimously to ask the South Carolina School Boards Association (SCSBA) – which coordinated the search – to confirm with the three candidates that they still intended to seek the Superintendent job. The finalists’ names and curriculum vitae were released the next afternoon.

Each of the finalists was scheduled to spend a day in Lexington Three schools next week, followed by meet-and-greet receptions with interested citizens and school district employees. However, after Gov. Henry McMaster announced Sunday afternoon that he was ordering schools across South Carolina closed for two weeks, School Board chair Stacey Derrick consulted with the SCSBA and applied the brakes to those original plans.

“We all agreed that we would postpone the finalist interviews. We have not rescheduled any specific dates. We’re going to revisit the situation at end of March,” said Mrs. Derrick. “Based on where we are at that time, we will reschedule the finalist interviews in April. Our hope is that we’ll be able to do that, but we just don’t know for sure given the situation.”

Postponing the final interviews and the meet-and-greet opportunities will ensure that parents, district staff and other stakeholders will be able to fully participate in the final selection process, Mrs. Derrick said.

“We definitely don’t want to go forward with the process without the proper interviews. We want things to go the right way,” she said. “Rushing through this just for the sake of getting it done is not in the best interest of anyone.”

If the coronavirus outbreak continues to disrupt normal school operations beyond the two-week mandatory closings ordered by Gov. McMaster, the Lexington Three School Board is prepared to wait as long as it takes. The selected finalists will remain the same until the final decision of the next Superintendent can be made; no changes in the selections are expected.

Last week, Mrs. Derrick and other Board members expressed their satisfaction with the Superintendent search process so far and the applicants who sought to lead Batesburg-Leesville schools.

“I think the good word about Lexington School District Three has gotten out, and so we have been very fortunate to have a lot of options open to us,” Mrs. Derrick said. “We’re looking forward to having a really well-qualified, energetic, enthusiastic Superintendent to come to Lexington Three.”

Board member Cheryl Burgess, who serves as president-elect of the SCSBA, said the School Boards Association’s careful coordination of the Superintendent search has helped bring the best and the brightest potential leaders to the table for Lexington Three.

“It’s easy to trust somebody who you know will bring you good candidates,” Mrs. Burgess said. “They (the SCSBA) are in touch with people from South Carolina, and we like local people. We need someone who’s going to see our vision, lead our district and be on the same page with us.”

Here is some additional information on each of the three Superintendent finalists:

DR. DREW ATKINSON JR.

Prior to his Assistant Superintendent role in Spartanburg County, Dr. Atkinson has served as an Associate Principal for Curriculum and Instruction; Director of Accountability, Assessment and Research; Director of Guidance Services; mathematics and chemistry teacher; assistant football coach; wrestling coach and golf coach. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, with minors in computer science and chemistry, from Francis Marion University. He has a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of South Carolina and a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

DR. THOMAS SCHMOLZE

Prior to his Assistant Superintendent role in York County, Dr. Schmolze served as the Executive Director of Pupil Services; a high school and middle school principal; assistant principal; English teacher and varsity tennis coach. He holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education (English/Special Education) from Clemson University. He has a master’s degree in school administration and supervision from Winthrop University and a doctorate degree in educational leadership and supervision from Nova Southeastern University.

DR. JAMES ANNE SHELEY

Prior to her Assistant Superintendent role in Richland Two, Dr. Sheley served as Chief Planning and Initiatives Officer; Director of Elementary Schools; founding principal of Lake Carolina Elementary School; elementary school principal; Curriculum Coordinator; assistant principal; and a 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Newberry College. She has a master’s degree in education administration and a master’s-plus-30 degree in educational leadership from Winthrop University. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

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The finalist who survives the rest of the process – whenever the final interviews can finally unfold – and accepts a contract as the next Superintendent will step in behind Interim-Superintendent Dr. Robert Hefner. Dr. Hefner came to Batesburg-Leesville last summer to fill-in after Dr. Randall Gary departed for Spartanburg District 5 following four years in Lexington Three.