A Tullahoma City Schools principal was the first to be interviewed for the Coffee County director of schools position, which was recently vacated by Dr. LaDonna McFall.
Dr. Charles Lawson, the principal at East Middle School in Tullahoma, has 16 total years of teaching experience in Idaho, Alaska and Tennessee.
Lawson met with the Coffee County school board, with the exception of Shannon Duncan, on Tuesday, May 21. Board chairman Brett Henley was present via a video call, but did not participate in asking questions.
Board member Freda Jones started off the interview by asking Lawson what he felt his duties and responsibilities would be if he were appointed.
“What the job of the director is, is to implement the wishes of the board as long as the board represents the wishes of the community,” Lawson said, adding that the duties of a director are outlined well in the board’s policy.
He would strive to keep open lines of communication between him and the board to learn what is best for the community.
Board member Pat Barton asked about his leadership style.
Lawson responded by saying he leads situationally and servantly.
“Situational leadership with a sprinkling of servant leadership as well – you need to understand that your role is to assist that person in their roles as well,” he said.
“Really, the important thing is, is that you remember what that person needs and what that person needs from you.”
Lawson explained the service side is more letting his staff and faculty know they are valued and supported and helping them whenever he can.
He gave an example of such leadership: a teacher with more experience than himself had some challenges being presented by a particular student.
“All I had to do was ensure her that my support was there. I offered to take a few steps and let her choose what was best suited,” he said.
If a new teacher had approached him, he would still offer choices, but be more direct, lead more and give benefit of your experiences.
Duncan’s question, asked by vice chair Gary Nester, was about what he believes the cultural, academics and programming goals and priority of the school system are.
“Of those, cultural, academics and programming, I believe the most important is culture. What has to happen is that it has to be a culture in which the professionals within that culture feel valued,” Lawson said.
“I recognize that there is a lot of people in my current school. I recognize that there is a lot of people that know more than I do and there are some that are smarter than I am. What I have to do is, I have to rely upon them. While they may not want my role and not be in my job, they may have an idea to move forward with something that I’m not going to have. If you don’t have culture that will allow that flow of ideas, it doesn’t do you any good,” Lawson said.
He explained this, in part, is why East Middle School has such a low teacher turnover rate – one or two teachers need to be replaced every year out of nearly 40, he claimed.
“I take into account peoples’ desires. I show them support, I meet them where they are needed and it is a positive working relationship,” he said.
Why choose Lawson?
Board member Ester Sims asked why Lawson should be the director of schools.
“I feel like I bring a unique set of skills to the job. I bring the perspective of a person who has done the Little League Parade and walked down and had the pictures in the park and that kind of thing. I bring the perspective of somebody who has taught in many different states, who has worked for many different directors, has operated under different sets of educational law and standards,” Lawson began.
“I bring a unique set of skills from a wide variety of outside sources. I bring a unique set of skills with me to somebody who is deeply tied in the area – who came from these schools themselves, who put their children through these schools and who has experienced success,” he continued.
He concluded by saying he doesn’t know if another candidate on the board’s interview list can bring the same experience to the table.
Sims asked, if he has all of this experience, why is this position as Coffee County director of schools so appealing to him?
“The appeal is the opportunity to make a difference,” Lawson said. “This job right here is one of the few jobs that I would potentially leave my current position for and there’s very few of those.”
Lawson is also a Coffee County native. His parents purchased their family farm when he was 9 months old. He went through the Coffee County School System and graduated from Coffee County Central High School in 1989. His children currently attend Coffee County Schools.
If he was offered this job, he said he would have as much staying power as the board allowed him to have – he has no desire for another administrative job.
Deputy director, weaknesses and 100 days
It will be the duty of the new director of schools to hire a deputy director. Lawson admitted he had no names in mind, though would appreciate it if Joe Pedigo, interim director of schools, would be willing to stay on board temporarily to show him the ropes.
When it comes to personality, Lawson said the ideal candidate would offer a perspective that is different from his own – someone who is more creative than he is.
“I believe my analytical way of looking at things is a strength, but it can be a weakness,” Lawson said.
“We think other people think/feel the way we do. My greatest weakness is that I don’t notice that all the time,” he explained.
As for his first 100 days, Lawson said he doesn’t have an ambitious goals or plans other than to get the schools ready for teachers and learn the ropes.
After graduating high school, Lawson started teaching career in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He got married and moved with his wife to Alaska to teach.
“As soon as I was parent, I wanted to come back home, so I did,” Lawson said. He planned on staying in Coffee County, but he and his wife had a unique opportunity to move back to Alaska for a couple of years and teach, which they did.
Once that position ended, they moved back to Coffee County and he started working in Tullahoma City Schools.
He earned his Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University, his Masters and Ed.S. in Administration from the Tennessee Technological University and his Ph.D. from the University of the Cumberlands.