The Williamson County school district in the number one ranked school district in the State. The district has a student population of a little over 36,000 and a staff of almost 5,000. Looney has 21 years experience as an educator and has served as superintendent of Williamson County Schools for six years.
Mr. Looney has been a controversial figure in Williamson County. Last year there was a petition drive led by J. Lee Douglas of the local 9-12 group to remove Looney from his position. The 9-12 group is a branch of a national group founded by radio talk show host Glen Beck. The local 9-12 group has engaged in fringe political activity such as an anti-Sharia law campaign and anti-Agenda 21 activity.
As part of their anti-Sharia law efforts they took out a $5,000 ad attacking Governor Haslam for his administration's hiring of a highly qualified Tennessee attorney who happened to be a Muslim. They alleged Governor Haslam was imposing Sharia law on Tennessee.
Just because the 9-12 group is a little kooky, that does not mean there may not be merit to their criticism of Mike Looney. I do not follow closely Williamson County politics and am not really certain of the original source of the animosity toward Looney. I think it had to do with his support of Common Core. While Common Core has now lost favor, at the time it was first being implemented, it had wide support. I tended to think it a positive development at the time, but am now ambivalent and think it is not worth fighting for. There are probably other ways to improve America's dismal education rankings rather than adopt common core. Anyway, Common Core has pretty much lost and been abandoned.
Looney was also criticized for a top-down management style and as someone who did not trust his principals and managers. Despite the pros and cons of Mr. Looney's management style and his performance as superintendent, Mr. Looney screwed up when trying to fight back against his opponents. The opposition to Mr. Looney organized and supported school board candidates more to their liking, hoping they could get a majority on the School board and oust Looney.
From what I can gather, Mr. Looney was involved in forming, or collaborating with a group formed to oppose his opponents and to support the candidacy of school board members who supported him. That group was Williamson Strong. It is alleged that teachers were intimidated into supporting Williamson Strong and that school property and school email list were used by Williamson Strong to promote their agenda. The group was fined by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for failing to file financial reports.
It is simply wrong for a superintendent who is hired by a board to engage in activity to determine who gets elected to that board. The superintendent should stay above the fray.
I really don't know a lot of what has gone on with Looney in Williamson County other than this skimpy summary above, but it seems to me that we should not be considering as one of our finalist for the job of superintendent someone who is tainted by such controversy. The Nashville pubic and our school board should not be put in a position of trying to determine the appropriateness of Mr. Looney's actions while superintendent of Williamson County Schools. We have a major division on our own school board over the issue of Charter schools and education reform. If is going to be difficult enough to find someone who can bridge that divide. We do not need the distraction of determining who was right in a contentious food fight in Williamson County. Who ever is selected as superintendent should come into the position with a lot of good will. If Looney is selected he will come into office with a target on his back, with a certain segment of the electorate opposing him before he even takes office. Whatever the truth of who was right or wrong in Williamson County, we do not need the distraction.
The other three up for the position are John Covington, a consultant for Broad Center; Angela Huff, the Chief of Staff for Cobb County schools in Georgia; and Barry Shepherd, the retired superintendent of Cabarrus County Schools in North Carolina. I think the search firm should be sent back out with new instruction to get three more good candidates and Mr. Looney's name should be removed from the list of finalist.
For more on Mike Looney and information on the controversy surrounding Williamson Strong, follow this link, this link, this link, and this link, or do a search of your own.