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To the best of my knowledge: our next superintendent

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By Stephen Lega

In today's paper, you'll find a pair of stories about Donald Wayne Smith, who will become the next superintendent of Marion County Public Schools, effective July 1, 2009.

Newspapers don't always do a good job of explaining why we do what we do, but that's what I will attempt to do with this column.

These are certain facts we know about our next superintendent - for instance, Smith is 41 years old, married and has three children - but we also realize people in Marion County will want to know more about the next leader of our local school system.

As I wrote in a previous column, the selection of the superintendent is the most important decision any school board makes. (I realize the school board makes many important decisions, but again this is the biggest one.)

It's also my opinion that whoever the Marion County Board of Education selected to follow outgoing Superintendent Roger Marcum will be following in some big footsteps. Marcum has a solid record during his term as superintendent, although many people probably remember that his selection was controversial 10 years ago.

This time there wasn't a room full of people to voice opposition to or support for the school board's selection, but I wouldn't be surprised if all the board members heard from many constituents at home, at the store and anywhere else they went about who people believed should fill Marcum's seat.

Board member Joe F. Mattingly acknowledged the difficulty of the board's decision. He also said he knows there will be people who disagree with the decision.

Once the board announced the finalists for the superintendent's seat, I knew the newspaper needed to research the candidates. With limited time and other responsibilities, the newspaper staff did the best it could to interview each of the candidates and to track down information about each of them from other sources.

But that initial push for more information was only part of what we needed to do.

I also knew we would try to learn more about the next superintendent, whoever that turned out to be.

In Marion County's case, that person is Donald Smith.

Anyone who has spent any time in the public eye is likely to have something controversial in their past. That's not to say they did anything wrong. Certain issues and situations are just controversial by nature.

In Smith's case, that controversy revolved around his dismissal as the head football coach at Kentucky State University.

With a lot of assistance, I was able to track down public records and published newspaper reports about that situation. I wasn't able to learn everything about that situation, but I feel like I learned a lot.

I also felt that that information should be shared with the public. I'm aware that there are rumors in the community, and my hope is that by reporting on what happened (as much as I could) that it would help slow the spread of rumors.

Do I know everything that happened? No, and I probably never will.

I also know some rumors will remain no matter what. After all, a Pew Research Center survey released this month revealed that 11 percent of Americans still believe - incorrectly - that President Barack Obama is a Muslim. (There's nothing wrong with being a Muslim, but Obama is not one.)

In the months to come, we hope to report more about our next superintendent and his plans for the district. He's also said he plans to be out and about in the community after he takes the office, so people will also have the opportunity to learn about him first-hand.

I can't and won't tell anyone what to think of Smith, but my hope is that the stories published in the Enterprise have helped you develop a more informed opinion.