March 15, 2013

Whitfield school board looks within

Gilreath named new superintendent

Charles Oliver

— There was no search. There were no rounds of interviews. There were no finalists.

Members of the Whitfield County Board of Education knew all along who they wanted as the school system’s next superintendent.

On Thursday the board voted unanimously during a special called meeting to hire Judy Gilreath, the system’s assistant superintendent for student support, to replace outgoing Superintendent Danny Hayes. Her contract, which runs through June 30, 2014, includes a salary of $140,000 as well as $600 a month to defray travel costs.

She will oversee a system that has — like many school systems — struggled financially in recent years. The system has more than 13,000 students and some 1,5000 employees in 23 school buildings.

Gilreath replaces Hayes, who on March 4 announced he would retire as superintendent March 31. Just 10 days later, board members hired a new superintendent.

“I’m really excited,” said Gilreath, who has more than 25 years experience in education. “We have a great organization with some of the best teachers and best administrators I’ve ever worked with. I know that we face some struggles financially, but I know that we are going to do everything we can to deal with those hurdles and continue to educate our children.”

She joined the school system in 2001 and has served in several roles, including principal of Pleasant Grove Elementary School and most recently as assistant superintendent for student support. She was also a business owner for 10 years.

A previous school board chose Gilreath as one of four finalists for the superintendent job in 2010, when the board hired Hayes.

“She has done an excellent job as assistant superintendent,” board Chairman Louis Fordham said. “She knows our schools. She knows our community. We feel confident that she can lead the school system, and the fact that a previous board named her one of the finalists the last time, that they had confidence in her abilities, too, just reinforced our belief that she is the right person for this job.”

The board did not advertise the position or conduct a search. Fordham said that was because the board felt that it had the right person within the system and because it had to act quickly to have someone in place by the time Hayes steps down.

“We can’t operate a school system without a superintendent. That’s state law,” he said.

Could they have named an interim superintendent while conducting a search?

“Our legal counsel told us we have to have a superintendent. We could call it anything we wanted to, but that person would have to have the responsibilities and obligations of a superintendent and the full authority and power,” he said.

Gilreath’s contract is basically for one year: the remainder of this school year and all of the next school year. Previous superintendents have had multi-year contracts.

Fordham said the board opted for a one-year contract because teachers have a one-year contract.

Gilreath said she was happy with a one-year contract.

“I didn’t object to that. I didn’t try to negotiate that. It works for both of us. If I’m doing a good job, they are going to want to renew it. And if I’m not doing a good job, they don’t have to buy me out,” she said.

The board also unanimously agreed to retain Hayes as a consultant through Aug. 31. He will be paid a lump sum of $68,429. That represents the remaining pay on his contract as superintendent, which expires May 31, as well as services as consultant.

“Danny has worked very well with us and served this community well. We wanted to make sure we had a smooth transition,” Fordham said. “We have a lot of issues at this time of the year. We have to renew contracts. We have to do performance evaluations. And he has agreed, at our request, to be available to help advise us in any way we might need.”