The Knox County Board of Education interviewed its two finalists for superintendent on Monday.

Current Knox County Assistant Superintendent Dale Lynch and Hamblen County Superintendent Bob Thomas stood out from a pool of 24 original candidates.
After a brief lunch to informally meet the board members, each candidate spent the day answering a set of 10 questions ranging from budgetary concerns to leadership and workplace management.

Both candidates agreed on the continued need for pre-Kindergarten programs and an emphasis on early literacy.

"Pre-Kindergarten is very important, and it's very important that we continue to advocate for that across the state,” Lynch said.

Thomas said only 27 percent of students in Knox County Schools meet the state’s benchmark for an ACT score of 21, and pointed to enhanced reading classrooms as a potential solution.

"Improving ACT scores doesn't start in high school; that starts in elementary school," he said.

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Several questions involved how each candidate would handle Knox County Schools’ budget.

Thomas said the district is not allocating its budget as efficiently as possible.

"We need to have the ability to change, the ability to grow, the ability to assess," he said, adding that the district often introduces new programs without phasing out unsuccessful ones.

If hired, Thomas said he would re-evaluate all pre-existing programs, but would avoid cutting any programs that affect student learning.

Lynch said during his tenure at Hamblen County Schools, the district has never cut funding to professional development programs, maintenance or technology. When probed about how managing Knox County Schools’ 60,000 students would compare to managing Hamblen County’s 10,000, Lynch said his leadership skills are transferable.

“I think when you are the parent of a child, it doesn't matter the size of the district. Every single student in every district counts,” he said.

Both candidates will attend a public meet-and-greet at West High School on Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m.

The board will hold its final vote on March 20.