The Birmingham Board of Education has named Dr. Lisa Herring the next superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, beating out fellow finalist Dr. Regina Thompson.
The raucous meeting seemed like a fitting end to a search that at times bordered on calamity, complete with a bomb threat during the interviews, an interim superintendent urging to the court to “force the board” to interview him for the position despite not being selected as a finalist, and two candidates withdrawing from consideration amid board infighting.
During the meeting security officers continually had to approach audience members and ask them to be quiet or else they would be removed. By the end, police officers had to forcefully remove several people who had started yelling at the board and attempting to approach the dais.
Herring was the candidate who was being publicly interviewed by the board when the bomb threat occurred, causing the building to be evacuated for over an hour while law enforcement swept for explosives.
She previously served as the chief academic officer for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky. She received her doctorate from Georgia Southern University in educational administration. She will be the ninth Birmingham superintendent in 20 years.
The announcement itself even seemed to highlight the fissures between board members, as well as citizens who openly mocked the board and at times grew combative. “This has been a been a very long, thorough, transparent, inclusive, and very rewarding process,” board member April Williams said, eliciting laughter from the audience that was quickly quelled by Board President Wardine Alexander’s calls for order. Alexander had to repeatedly slam the gavel and ask the crowd to calm down throughout the meeting.
Before the announcement, Williams gave a lengthy presentation about both candidates, while the crowd grew somewhat restless. “What a joke!” one woman yelled out. “No recommendations from Craig [Witherspoon]?” another man asked while Williams read feedback from both candidates’ references. (Thompson currently serves as chief of teaching in learning in the school district where former Birmingham superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon now serves after resigning amid allegations over misuse of federal Title-1 funding).
After announcing the scoring tallies, which indicated Herring scored higher than Thompson — Herring had a combined total of 251 points to Thompson’s 233 — the board went into an executive session before announcing who would be the next superintendent, leaving members of the community languishing over the decision for 20 minutes.
The executive session was to discuss “pending litigation and good name and character,” according to Afrika Parchman, the attorney for the board. No legal action was taken during the executive session. Interim Superintendent Dr. Larry Contri was placed on paid administrative leave effective immediately, a move that caused the crowd to erupt with displeasure.
“This is completely out of order, and it is not in the goodwill or the good interests of Birmingham City Schools,” board member Cheri Gardner said, referring to the decision to place Contri on paid administrative leave.
“This whole process has been out of order and out of line,” board member Sherman Collins said. “I’m very surprised my colleagues have put their reputation on the line defending a process that they know is not right.”
Board member Daagye Hendricks said the board had not discussed this action before the meeting and seemed taken aback by the entire process. “It hurts my heart that we can’t come together and make a decision. I would’ve loved for us to not have to do this here in front of you all,” Hendricks said to the crowd, adding that receiving this information at the same time as the public is an “unfair way to do business.”
Collins and Hendricks both voted against approving Herring for the position. The board also announced she will be compensated $202,000, but did not discuss the specifics of the contract.
When the previous superintendent, Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan, was hired by the board in 2015, she greeted everyone afterward and made a few brief comments. By the end of Tuesday’s special called board meeting, members of the public were being escorted out of the building. Herring did not make an appearance.