IW School Board sets timeline for hiring new superintendent

Published 9:06 am Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Isle of Wight County’s School Board has outlined a timeframe for hiring a new superintendent.

Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton, who’s led Isle of Wight County Schools since 2015, announced in March that he would retire at the end of June.

Per state law, the School Board has 180 days starting July 1 to name Thornton’s successor. The school system is soliciting input from parents, teachers and other stakeholders via surveys and two public hearings.

The survey can be taken at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/IsleofWightSuperintendentSearch.

The first hearing will take place April 19 at 6 p.m. at Westside Elementary School, coinciding with the last day of the survey. The second will be on April 23 at 10 a.m. at Georgie D. Tyler Middle School.

The School Board will use the input it receives from the surveys and the two hearings to decide on a list of desired qualifications for Thornton’s successor.

The identities of any candidates, however, will be shielded from the public’s view.

“The confidentiality of your candidates is so important … . If you want quality candidates, you have to make sure, as soon as their names come in for an application packet, they’re not out in the community,” said Gina Patterson, an advisor with the Virginia School Boards Association assisting the Isle of Wight School Board with its selection process.

Virginia, she explained at a special April 5 School Board meeting, maintains a list of eligible superintendent candidates who have the education and experience required by state law. School boards also have the option of appointing a superintendent from outside the education field, such as a former chief executive officer or senior military officer, if they make such a request to the Virginia Department of Education.

The application window for the position will open May 2 and close May 27. Interviews will likely take place in mid-June.

With the 2022-23 school year starting July 1, the School Board will likely need to name an acting superintendent for the first few months. According to Patterson, a candidate need not be on the state’s eligible superintendent list to fill the role in an acting capacity.

Thornton had initially planned to continue as superintendent through the end of the 2022-23 school year, but he asked the School Board to release him a year earlier, stating in a letter that he’d become “saddened that staff and children have been directly affected by politicians that have used k-12 education to further their political agendas.”

For nearly a year, a vocal group of county residents has accused Thornton, board members and other IWCS employees of bringing Critical Race Theory and its tenets into the school system via its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. CRT, as it’s often abbreviated, argues American laws and institutions have perpetuated inequalities among minority groups.

Thornton and other school officials have repeatedly denied CRT is being taught in Isle of Wight, but critics pointed to Smithfield High School’s “Read Woke” challenge, which encourages students to read social justice-themed books, as evidence of CRT’s perceived influence. In January, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order banning the teaching of “divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory,” in Virginia’s public schools.