But Sumner's top educator made strides his second year on the job by putting high-quality education into the local spotlight.
Phillips in the past year rolled out a progressive plan to give students a head start in college and a pathway to a specialized field by launching focus academies at the county's high schools. He later redirected the plan after surveys showed parents favored a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
In his first year on the job, Phillips received an 85 percent overall approval rating from school board members. Under his watch, Sumner students made widespread, across-the-board achievement gains on annual assessments this year and increased the county's graduation rate.
Phillips' recommendation in August 2012 to delay the start of school because of a shortfall to the school system's budget sparked a high profile and controversial debate about school funding and whether property taxes should be increased to better fund education. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy in December, Phillips announced a plan to beef up security at schools by retrofitting buildings and adding school resource officers.
"He has awakened the public to the needs of the school system and brought it from the backburner of many people's minds to the front burner," said school board Chairman Ted Wise. "In doing so, you are going to ruffle some feathers because there are some who think good enough is good enough; Dr. Phillips doesn't accept good enough."
(Alcorn County Native Dr. Del Phillips III was one of 25 people named to the "Sumner County's Most Influential" 2013 Edition by the Gallatin News Examiner / Hendersonville Star News. The story by education reporter Jennifer Easton published March 15 is being reprinted with permission. Phillips is a 1989 graduate of Alcorn Central High School and is the son of Ruth Ann Phillips and the late Roy Phillips Jr.)