Coffee County director of schools LaDonna McFall interviews to become Johnson City Schools superintendent

Tony Casey • Mar 9, 2017 at 11:28 PM

Dr. LaDonna McFall, director of schools for Coffee County, likes that the Johnson City community has high expectations for its students, teachers and administrators.

That high expectation, she’s noticed while touring school facilities, results in impressive academic performances.

She has something to add to the equation, and when she spoke to the Johnson City school board Thursday night — the fourth of five finalist candidates for the role of superintendent — she said her competitive spirit might be the driver for her enthusiasm.

“I’m progressive and I like pushing forward,” McFall said. “I see Johnson City Schools doing that as well.

“I want to be the best school district. I think Johnson City has the components in place to get to that point. The students want to come here, the teachers want to teach here, and administrators want to come here and stay here.”

McFall’s resume is full of positions she’s held at all levels of the school systems.

Having started her education career as a substitute teacher, McFall jokes that some people might say she can’t stay in a position for very long, but she see her upward trajectory as a massive positive.

“I’ve always thought it was important to walk in those shoes, take those necessary steps and know that how those jobs are,” she told the community during a question-and-answer session before her formal interview with the Board of Education.

With that, she has a great understanding of what it takes to support teachers, because she’s been one and will know how to help from the administrative side.

“I’m a teacher and that’s where my heart is and will always be,” McFall said.

When asked about what she’d like to say, something that might not be on her resume, McFall cited her work ethic and not taking any shortcuts to the right choice.

Presenting herself as a fresh set of eyes on the Johnson City Schools system, McFall didn’t point to any significant issues it faces that aren’t being experienced across the state.

Better support for teachers and underserved student populations are what McFall would like to champion in the Johnson City Schools system.

The way McFall oversees staff — and currently there are about 700 employees in Coffee County, 350 being certified staff — is to let professionals do their respective jobs.

“I try to hire the best people possible and make sure they have great training, and then I get the heck out of their way,” she said. “We’re all professionals. You have a job description. You’re qualified and you have the resources you need. I’m not going to micromanage you.”

Dr. Richard Manahan asked about putting out the good message about what schools are doing.

She emphasized the importance of making sure the public knows what’s going on in the school system.

“We don’t do well enough to tell our own story,” McFall said about. “We need to be better about sharing those good stories. If we don’t share the good stories, they’ll find the not-so-good stories to write.”

McFall actually oversees Coffee County Schools’ Twitter feed, and says it’s surprising how important that is and how much engagement with students she has.

“I do that myself, because I want to make sure that it gets out there.”

John Hunter asked McFall about her system’s budget and requests to the Coffee County Commission — the funding body for her school system — and learned she’s been working with an approximate $56 million budget.

McFall said she tries to operate with a healthy reserve fund, and tries to only ask for money from the county when it’s necessary and she thinks she can get it.

“I don’t ask for the moon,” she said. “I’d like to, but I don’t.”

Email Tony Casey at tcasey@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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