What makes Bibb Schools’ superintendent finalist the right choice? The school board won’t say


Bibb Schools

Dan Anthony Sims, the Bibb County Board of Education’s sole finalist for superintendent, visits students at a Bibb County Elementary School on Monday, April 25, 2022.

The Bibb County Board of Education is set to officially hire its sole finalist for school superintendent next month. Board members who voted on the lone candidate have refused to say what makes him the best fit for the district.

Dan Anthony Sims, one of five assistant superintendents for Atlanta Public Schools, was named the only pick for superintendent finalist in a 6-2 vote at a regular Bibb Schools board meeting April 21.

The board is set to hold a called meeting May 10 at 6:30 p.m. to approve a contract.

Bibb Schools spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley said there are no planned community forums to meet with Sims or gather more public input before the meeting. There is no public comment period for called board meetings. Called meetings also are not recorded or live streamed. Even so, Hartley said stakeholders may continue to reach out to their representatives on the school board.

Earlier this week, Sims visited the school district and met with news reporters. The district produced two videos from his visit as an introduction to the community.

In the videos, the 50-year-old Sims described himself as a man of faith, a devoted husband and a loving father. Sims has a daughter in high school and a son in college. His wife is a teacher. He also is a cancer survivor.

“People say, ‘Don’t throw your eggs in one basket.’ I’m the antithesis of that,” Sims said in one of the videos. Sims added he has visited Macon about nine or 10 times since applying for the job and has already picked a barber and found some favorite restaurants.

Sims is from East Point and earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree from Georgia State University. According to his resume, Sims started his career in education as a math teacher for Fulton County Schools. He worked up to positions of dean of students, assistant principal and then principal before taking a job at Atlanta Public Schools in 2016. Sims also worked as an educational consultant.

In the 29-page job application Sims submitted, Sims touted one of his key accomplishments as an associate superintendent as “increasing the District’s graduation rate by 12 percentage points over the course of 5 years.” However, the graduation rate for Atlanta Public Schools increased by only 6% over that time frame, according to the Georgia Department of Education’s records.

Board members who voted to begin negotiations with Sims at the April 21 meeting have said nothing publicly about the reasons for their decision. Board members also declined to share what process they used to vet candidates.

Asked by email what made Sims outshine the other 32 applicants, Board President Thelma Dillard replied by directing a reporter for The Macon Newsroom to send questions to the school district spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley.

Board member Juawn Jackson declined to share why he believes Sims is the most qualified candidate.

“My responsibility as a board member is to assist in the hiring of the most qualified applicant to lead our district,” Jackson said in an emailed response. “Acting in the capacity as an employer, it would not be proper to comment publicly on the specific qualifications of any individual candidate.”

Board member Kristin Hanlon also refused to share her reasons for voting in favor of picking Sims. Hanlon said in an email she believes “it would be inappropriate to comment on the specific qualifications of an individual candidate.”

Board members James Freeman, Sundra Woodford, Myrtice Johnson and Lisa Garrett did not reply to emails from The Macon Newsroom. Garrett and Board Member Daryl Morton were the two dissenting votes.

While most on the board have refused to say why Sims was the best fit to replace retiring Superintendent Curtis Jones, Morton stood from his chair to explain in detail the reasons for his dissent just before the vote.

In a seven-minute speech at the April 21 meeting, Morton described how he agonized over the search and selection process for a new district superintendent because “it’s the most important decision we make as a board.”

Morton recalled being elected to the school board just before Jones was hired in 2015 and amid the fallout of disgraced former Superintendent Romain Dallemand. Dallemand’s tumultuous two-year tenure mired the school district in a bribery-related scandal that played out in federal court trials in years that followed his departure.

“We were desperately in need of leadership that was transformational and would help us recover not only from the debacle that was Romain Dallemand, but also to restore trust in the community,” Morton said at the April 21 meeting.

The board needed continuity, Morton said, and it wanted Jones to “develop a leadership pipeline that would enable us to promote from within when he ultimately left the system. He pursued that goal with fidelity.”

Morton said Jones encouraged employees to commit to the school district by offering them leadership positions. He noted that two former leaders for Bibb Schools under Jones had been hired as superintendents of nearby school districts in the past year.

“Clearly it has worked,” Morton said. “We have wonderful internal candidates to be superintendent now.”

Morton said board members are tasked with doing their due diligence when it comes to vetting candidates for the district’s top leadership position.

“I’ll tell you right now, two-and-a-half hours of interviews is not enough to satisfy my due diligence that an outside candidate is the best one for this system when I see the success that has occurred,” Morton said.

Morton was holding on to paper printouts of the organizational charts for Atlanta Public Schools and Bibb Schools.

“You know what’s number one at the top of a chart for a school system? It’s the public,” he said. “It’s the stakeholders. It’s you. … We serve at your pleasure and so I want to thank you for your input.”

Morton also noted the Bibb Schools organizational chart shows “the person whom I hear most often recommended to be our next superintendent from those that prefer a local option is right below the superintendent. The vice president to the president, as it were.”

In contrast, Sims is listed as one of five associate superintendents “way down on the chart,” Morton said.

“It’s easy to want to grab for the bright shiny toy or the new thing. But the reality is in education progress is slow. It is methodical. It is incremental and it is not easy. It’s not getting any easier because it has become so hard to find teachers who will teach our kids,” Morton said. An internal candidate is best to “continue the Victory in Progress that is already happening, to continue to maintain the relationships that we have built with our stakeholders.”

Five of six people who signed up to address the board at the meeting pleaded for the selection of an internal candidate.

The board voted to move forward with negotiations with Sims and the meeting was over without fanfare.

As dozens of people filed out into the parking lot of the Professional Learning Center, a small crowd formed inside around Bibb Schools Chief of Staff Tanzy Kilcrease. Kilcrease hugged necks and told supporters, “It’s OK.”

Kilcrease was one of two potential internal candidates whose name frequently appeared in responses to a public feedback survey the Georgia School Board Association published online for the district in late February. Results from the survey showed a majority of respondents preferred an internal candidate.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, email her at [email protected] or call 478-301-5777.