March 28, 2013

New schools chief switches staffing, ends Schlechty partnership

Rachel Brown

— Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Judy Gilreath said she and other officials have mulled for some time concerns that several administrative positions weren’t being used as effectively as they could be.

There was also concern about the separate issue of teachers being pulled away from the classroom for professional development that, while helpful, still took them away from their students. The recently appointed schools chief publicly announced on Wednesday several measures to address those concerns and others after meeting with staff about them the day before.

The changes include moving Southeast Whitfield High School Principal Karey Williams into the position of assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. Audrey Williams — no relation — had that title along with other responsibilities after then-assistant superintendent Dusty Brown retired a year ago.

Now Audrey Williams will become chief officer over assessment, accountability and educational technology once the changes take effect July 1. That move essentially places Audrey Williams back into a job similar to the one she held before Brown’s retirement when Gilreath said she, Williams and former superintendent Danny Hayes split Brown’s responsibilities to save money on hiring a replacement.

Just three years ago, there were four assistant superintendents. Then there were budget cuts, retirements and more budget cuts. Hayes announced weeks ago he planned to retire at the end of the month. Board members hired Gilreath, then an assistant superintendent, to take his place. Come July, there will be just one assistant superintendent.

Gilreath said a number of other personnel shifts will streamline the district’s administration so that instead of having 34 people reporting directly to the superintendent, there will be just eight. For example, school principals currently report to her directly, but under the new plan they’ll work with the assistant superintendent and directors of various departments. Rather than the superintendent by herself, the superintendent, assistant superintendent and a curriculum specialist for the principal’s grade level will conduct yearly evaluations.

“That doesn’t mean that I’m not still ultimately the supervisor, and that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to work with them and do what I need to continue to support them,” she added.

Board of Education Chairman Louis Fordham said officials will know more about the financial impact of all the changes once the budget is in place and the board has issued teacher contracts that must go out by May 15. They changes are expected to be close to cost neutral.

“Some of the changes that are coming out now, it’s important to know that Judy didn’t sort of walk in and say, ‘I want to make all of these changes,’” Fordham added. “We’ve been talking leadership, we’ve been talking structure for a while now. Judy sort of picked the ball up and has run with it.”

Same direction, new method

An eight-year partnership with a Kentucky-based think tank that many school officials have praised and some community members have criticized is set to end this fall. The Schlechty Center is an organization that has provided professional development that school officials said assisted them in implementing teaching techniques and other changes that helped students and staff. Gilreath said because of that partnership, more than 80 employees are trained to teach the same methods Schlechty employees taught.

“I felt like, and our leadership felt like, now we’ve built capacity and we will be able to continue the direction without having to pay an outside source,” she said.

The school system has spent well over $1 million on the Schlechty Center since 2005, funding it through state and federal grants that can be used only for professional development. During that time, there were occasional community complaints — and sometimes whispered concerns from employees — about taking teachers out of the classroom several times a year for training. Gilreath said she’s had that concern too and hopes to address it with the new staffing and training plans.

The superintendent said ending the partnership when the roughly year-long contract with Schlechty expires Sept. 30 could save the system a small amount of money since the federal dollars required a 25 percent match in local dollars. Yet the net effect of all the changes is expected to be close to cost neutral. Perhaps three or four employees affected by the personnel shakeup will see their salaries decrease by some amount, Gilreath said, while several others will get paid a little more.

“Nobody got a big raise,” she said. “What we tried to do was look at the responsibilities of the jobs, the number of people reporting to them, and kind of do a range of salaries.”

Gilreath said she’s built rapport with people in the school system since she was hired in 2001 and hopes employees will continue to trust her and feel comfortable coming to her with concerns.

“I don’t want to be just sitting up here making decisions by myself,” Gilreath said. “I need input. I think I’ve been in the system long enough (to build rapport). I just hope that doesn’t change since I’ve changed offices.”

Board member Rodney Lock, who often expresses concern about changes even when other board members don’t, said he is comfortable with the moves.

“I believe Judy will do a good job,” he said. “Everything she’s done (on the recent changes), she’s kind of run by us. She’s very open and honest about things and very approachable.”


New titles for Whitfield County Schools employees

Teaching and Learning

• Assistant Superintendent Karey Williams (from principal at Southeast Whitfield High School; Assistant Principal Deni Pendley will become principal).

• Elementary School Curriculum Director Merry Boggs (from teaching at Antioch Elementary).

• Middle School Curriculum Director Michelle Caldwell (from assistant principal at Varnell Elementary, no replacement named).

• High School Curriculum Director Tom Appelman (from teacher and math department head at Southeast Whitfield High School).


Student Services

• Chief Officer Wanda Phillips (former director who reported to Gilreath at that office).

• Student Services Director Chris Parker (from principal at Valley Point Elementary, no replacement named).


Assessment, Accountability and Educational Technology

• Chief Officer Audrey Williams (change in title, realignment of responsibilities of assessment and accountability with addition of leading technology department; has been serving as assistant superintendent of teaching and learning since Dusty Brown retired as well as serving as executive director of assessment and accountability).

• Technology Director Jim Fugate (role has not changed; he now reports to Assessment, Accountability and Tech instead of Student Services).


Human Resources

• Chief Officer Rhonda Yim (change in title, realignment of responsibilities with additional staff reporting to her).

• Professional Development Director Dee Goodwin (formerly a teaching and learning coordinator; has new duties and changed to report to human resources).

• Federal Programs Director Lorijo Calhoun (formerly reporting to teaching and learning; now reporting to human resources).



• Chief Officer Mike Ewton (will lead operations including facilities, transportation and security with focus on safety and security in addition to leading facilities and transportation with assistance from those directors).

• Transportation director (nobody named for this position yet; it is not a new position, duties have been covered by Ewton).