COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – After two months, 31 applications and a $250,000 search, the Columbus City School Board has selected the only finalist already working in the district.

Angela Chapman, interim superintendent of the state’s largest school district, will assume the role permanently, the board announced Tuesday night.

“This was a very difficult and challenging choice,” said board member Eric S. Brown. “This was good because we had some really high-quality candidates. (Chapman) knows our system and she has demonstrated to me during this past four-five months that she can lead.”

Board vice-president Christina Vera said she was impressed with the leadership Chapman showed since being named interim superintendent.

“Dr. Chapman exhibits the character and determination needed to uplift the great work of Columbus City Schools while addressing the challenges of the state’s largest school district and ensuring the best academic and personal outcomes for our students,” she said.

Chapman was named interim superintendent the day after Talisa Dixon announced her retirement from the role. Then the district’s Chief of Transformation and Leadership, she assumed the position Jan. 1, a few months after Dixon signed an additional three-year superintendent contract.

“I always felt that I could do it, certainly,” Chapman said. “Stepping into the role, I knew that it would be a heavy lift, but certainly that heavy lift was nothing compared to the passion that I have for the students and our district and our community.”

“I have confidence in you,” board president Jennifer Adair said of Chapman before the vote. “I think our community has confidence in you.”

Chapman said she is ready to continue building on the goals set out by the district.

“Focusing on early literacy and graduation and matriculation and really making sure we are spreading the importance of attendance and getting the message to our community,” she said.

The other two finalists carried previous jobs’ controversies with them to Columbus.

George “Eric” Thomas, who used to work for Cincinnati Public Schools, left his job with the Georgia Department of Education after an audit accused him of instructing employees which vendors to award contracts to and routinely failing to adequately verify vendor services before payment. In his current position as superintendent of Pasadena Unified School District, Brian McDonald was issued a no-confidence vote by the teacher’s union and signed a publicly unpopular contract extension through 2026.

NBC4 repeatedly asked Columbus City Schools whether it was aware of the complaints against Thomas and McDonald before selecting them as finalists. The district previously declined to answer.

Columbus City Schools’ search for a superintendent was not without its own contention. The NAACP of Columbus has criticized the amount the board spent in contracts with search firm Ray & Associates and communications agency Fahlgren Mortine. As the finalists participated in a town hall forum last week, the NAACP gave the district’s search a vote of no confidence for its lack of transparency.

“You have failed us, you have failed the children and you have failed the entire community,” Nana Watson, president of the NAACP of Columbus, said at the Tuesday board meeting.

NBC4 filed a records request for the application materials for six semifinalists, but the district refused to provide the records, claiming it wasn’t in possession of the applications. The district referred NBC4 to its hired law firm, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, whose representative claimed only Ray & Associates possessed the records and cited attorney-client privilege as a reason to withhold them.

A public records expert said this denial likely violates public records law.

Chapman holds three degrees, including a bachelor’s in elementary education from the University of Akron, a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Ashland University, and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Tennessee State University. Chapman is a two-time Fulbright scholar, traveling to Japan and Hungary for teacher development programs.

After working in several districts — including in Cleveland Heights, Nashville and the District of Columbia — Chapman joined Columbus City Schools in 2019. She led the implementation of an $8 million grant to improve the district’s “principal pipeline” and has served on administration during the sudden shift to remote learning during COVID-19.

“This work is my mission and my way of serving our community, and certainly I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Chapman said Tuesday.

Chapman was also in the district’s central office during Columbus’ first teacher strike in a half century, a strike over staff salaries, poor building conditions and outdated HVAC systems. In April, the district’s building substitutes voted to join the Columbus Education Association. Two weeks later, the board and union filed with the state labor relations board to add the building substitutes to the bargaining unit.

The board said the next steps are the legal process of drafting Chapman’s contract. There is no timeline as to when that will be completed. Chapman will continue fulfilling the district’s superintendent duties.