State Superintendent of Education Dr. Robert Taylor (photo from the University of Southern Mississippi).
The memo states that the Board of Education’s selection process lacked transparency and provided specific instances that backed up their claim.
On Wednesday, a Mississippi Senate Education subcommittee held a meeting with Dr. Robert Taylor, the new State Superintendent of Education, and Rosemary Aultman, Chair of the Mississippi State Board of Education.
Senate subcommittee chairman Chris Johnson (R) said he has fielded questions about Dr. Taylor and the process surrounding his selection. Johnson and lawmakers invited Dr. Taylor to answer questions about his background, his philosophy on education, and how he plans to manage the Department of Education.
“I thought it would be best to be transparent as possible and have a hearing where we will not be voting today, but have a hearing where we could allow Dr. Taylor to answer questions that committee members have as well as other members of the Senate,” Chairman Johnson said.
Dr. Taylor, who must be confirmed by the Mississippi Senate, said he believes his experience helps him to uniquely understand what’s needed in Mississippi and how we continue to do the work that has moved Mississippi forward.
“You all have invested so much in education, I want to make sure that I continue that relationship with not only members of this body, but with constituents across the state,” Dr. Taylor told the subcommittee. “I look forward to talking with you and answering anything that I can to help you understand where I see Mississippi headed in education.”
The subcommittee’s hearing follows the release of a PEER Staff Legislative Assistance Memo regarding the Mississippi Board of Education’s State Superintendent selection process.
The memo was prepared by the PEER Committee staff in response to a specific legislative request seeking information regarding the selection process for the state superintendent.
The Board of Education contracted with McPherson & Jacobson, LLC in June 2022 to serve as the search firm to recruit and evaluate applicants for Mississippi’s State Superintendent of Education.
“McPherson & Jacobson was responsible for generating the applicant pool and evaluating applicants using the criteria established by the Board, while the Board was responsible for conducting interviews of applicants and making the final decision on the selected candidate,” the memo states.
According to the Board, 26 individuals from 15 states applied for the position. Of the 26, nine were employed in Mississippi at the time of application and 17 were employed in another state.
“The Board stated that McPherson & Jacobson’s consultants evaluated all applicants against the criteria developed by the Board to identify those applicants that most closely met the criteria,” the memo said. “The Board did not provide PEER staff a detailed method by which applicants were evaluated (e.g., a rubric with scoring based on the core competencies of the position). Further, the information listed in the position advertisement is not sufficient to determine how applicants were scored.”
The memo continues to explain that PEER staff reached out to the Board on whether it developed a cutoff score or ranking to determine who would be interviewed. The Board said that a cutoff score or ranking system was not established or used.
On November 21, 2022, by a unanimous vote (8-0), the Board voted to hire Dr. Taylor as the State Superintendent of Education.
The memo also detailed how the Board communicated the selection of Dr. Taylor to stakeholders.
Following the Board’s vote to hire Dr. Taylor, they announced the decision in an open session meeting. Then, MDE posted a media release on its website at 4:30 p.m. and also sent the release to 193 media members, 23 stakeholders including the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, MDE employees, and MDE’s listservs for superintendents, principals, teachers, counselors, and district directors.
MDE then posted an announcement to its Facebook and Twitter pages at 4:41 p.m. and MDE’s Director of Governmental Relations e-mailed the media release to the Governor’s Office, Lieutenant Governor’s Office, and to the chair and vice chair of the House and Senate education committees at 4:41 p.m.
“On November 30, 2022, Mrs. Rosemary Aultman, Board Chair, sent letters to the Governor’s Office, Lieutenant Governor’s Office, the Speaker of the House, and to the chair and vice chair of the education committees in the House and the Senate addressing the Board’s appointment of Dr. Taylor,” the memo detailed.
The memo argues that the Board’s selection process lacked transparency and provided specific instances that backed up their claim:
- McPherson & Jacobson proposed that finalists for the position be named publicly; however, the Board chose to keep the names confidential until the candidate had been selected and the voting was completed.
- The Board provided no detailed methodology for scoring and/or ranking applicants. Neither McPherson & Jacobson nor the Board provided documentation of a detailed scoring methodology to ensure objectivity in the comparison of applicants against each other. This methodology would be expected of such a critical selection process.
- Alabama and Louisiana conducted similar selection processes within the past five years, which were more transparent. The boards in LA and AL conducted their state superintendent searches using an open process that involved interested parties, particularly the public. Mississippi’s Board chose to use a closed process that had the potential to significantly impact the trust between the Board and its stakeholders.
During Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting, many Senators asked Aultman, the Education BoardChair, about the selection process of Dr. Taylor, referencing the PEER memo.
State Senator Angela Hill (R) asked Aultman specifically about how the position was decided and how applicants were scored.
Aultman said the Board hired a consulting firm after they requested proposals and had gone through the proper procurement process. She said the consultant helped them determine the things that were important after they had surveyed teachers, superintendents, and legislators, and then they developed a candidate profile.
The Board Chair said the scoring system was that a subcommittee was appointed who developed a rubric to score the proposals that they received. Aultman said the consulting firm they chose helped them with the scoring and then they interviewed the candidates that rose to the top.
“We had twenty six people who filed applications and eighteen of those completed the application and met all of the requirements,” Aultman said. “Of those eighteen, seven bubbled to the top based on the scoring and we, as part of the application process, each applicant had to submit a video.”
“As far as the privacy of the applicants, it was a discussion with the consultant who really recommended to us that we keep the applicants private,” Aultman said. “And the reason for that is a lot of times, applicants apply and if their district, or their supervisor, or their superintendent, or whatever, it has an impact on them.”
Aultman went on to say that applications didn’t start rolling in until mid to late October. She said they made a commitment to each applicant that they would remain anonymous and they have continued to honor that.
“The idea was not to be not transparent about it, we were simply trying, it’s the responsibility of the board to do this, and we were simply trying to honor the requests that came to us,” the Board Chair said.
State Senator David Blount (D) said he would like to hear from Aultman, on behalf of the board, what were the qualities that led the board to select Dr. Taylor.
“We were looking first and foremost for a leader, we were looking for someone who had a deep knowledge of educational rigor, of someone who understand the process, of someone who had been a leader in their state in the educational area, somewhat who had been exposed to national organizations, who had participated in national boards, who could represent our state on the national level,” Aultman said. “We were looking for someone who had the knowledge of federal programs because that is the most difficult part of managing the Department is all of the money that comes through with the federal programs and al the requirements that are involved with those and to making certain that we’re abiding by all of those regulations.”
One of the most critical things that the Board was looking for, Aultman told Senators, was someone who had experience in district turnaround because it has been a burden on our Board.
“Because while we have school districts where all you have to do is open the doors and the kids come in and they do great, we still have school districts that are struggling,” Aultman said.
A confirmation vote for the new State Superintendent of Education has not yet been set in the Senate.
You can read the full PEER Staff Legislative Assistance Memo below.