Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton called action taken at last Thursday’s School Board meeting the beginning of a “reshaping” of district administrative staff.
Board members voted in support, but not until Billy Quinn, Jr. and board chair Linda Wood, acknowledged they had little choice in personnel decisions from the superintendent.
Norton filled out the principal roster at all four schools, a process that began in January.
He also tweaked job titles and some responsibilities for district administration as part of what he called a necessary multi-year plan.
A plan impacted by several factors.
Sara Joe Wooten, the assistant superintendent for instruction, and Deborah Crosby, director of special services, will retire by the end of the summer.
That is more than 60 years of experience the district will lose among leadership, including two critical positions within the district.
“They have more knowledge in their little pinkies than most of us will ever have,” Norton said.
Secondly, demographics necessitate some changes.
The district will have roughly 76 fewer full-time equivalent students in Wewahitchka at the beginning of 2014-2015 compared to the prior school year.
That is equal to roughly $325,000 on the bottom line, nearly all of a projected $355,000 shortfall predicted for the coming budget season.
With schools in Port St. Joe not seeing much if any drop-off in numbers – Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School will have enrollment of roughly 324 in the fall; Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High is expected to be over 500 – a shift in school personnel is required.
And finally, the impacts of initial Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which Norton called a “black eye” and “unacceptable”, have impacted decision-making.
Both elementary school principals were approved by the School Board.
Tracy Bowers, who is the 2014 Gulf District Teacher of the Year, will move from the classroom to the front office at Wewahitchka Elementary School as she takes over as principal.
Bowers was on hand to accept her trophy as Teacher of the Year.
“I work with a wonderful group of colleagues,” Bowers said. “I feel I was born to teach and I was meant to be here in this county making a difference.”
Norton praised Bowers passion and dedication.
“She is a wonderful asset to our school district, for her school and her classroom,” he added.
Dr. Sandra Cook is the new principal at Port St. Joe Elementary.
Cook, a math teacher, succeeds Sue Gannon who requested a return to teaching math, citing in her letter requesting the transfer the recent release of FCAT results.
Norton spent several minutes praising Gannon and her work in the district, noting Gannon has two years until retirement and skills in the classroom.
Of Cook, he said, “She’s had extensive work with curriculum and she knows schools.”
“We looked at our ranks,” Norton continued, noting that requirements for a principal in Gulf County, a Master’s in Education and certification in Educational Leadership, obviously made the pool of candidates shallow, but strong candidates nonetheless emerged.
“We found people who are tried and true,” Norton said. “They bring local understanding, passion and enthusiasm. I have no doubt they are going to make fantastic principals.”
Before the School Board voted on Norton’s recommendation, though, Billy Quinn, Jr., commented on the board’s role in the process, saying it can not, unless in possession of information disqualifying an individual from employment, possess the power to overrule the superintendent on personnel decisions.
Quinn said the board must “live or die” by the superintendent’s decisions on personnel.
His comments were echoed by Wood.
“He’s making these recommendations based on what is good for the district,” Quinn said. “We feel he’s making the best choice for the district. But we have to accept or find good cause to overturn his decision.
“We are shooting to give students the best opportunity to succeed.”
The principals for the two junior/senior high schools have been in place since earlier this year.
Duane McFarland, a former principal who moved to the district office two years ago, replaced Jeremy Knapp at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School after Knapp left on a leave of absence and did not return.
Jay Bidwell, who became principal at Wewahitchka Elementary on an interim basis in January, moves to Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School where he had long been a teacher.
Wooten will be replaced by Lori Price, most recently principal at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School and Martha Weimorts replaced Crosby.
Board members discussed changes to job titles – Price is director of instruction, Weimorts director of special services and Bill Carr is the lone assistant superintendent, for business, – and accompanying tweaking in responsibilities and organization flow.
“Nobody will just come in and take over the jobs of (Wooten and Crosby),” Norton said. “I’m needing to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.”
Norton said it was a “reshaping” of administration in the district, which also included moving two teaching positions from Wewahitchka to Port St. Joe.