Wednesday, November 23, 2005

TOP STORY >> District official defends himself

Leader staff writer

Marvin H. Jeter III said Monday that the reason he was not rehired at Forest (Miss.) Municipal School District was that he championed racial equality and also allowed an integrated prom, which displeased the superintendent.

Jeter, director of learning services for Pulaski County Special School District, also denied charges by Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Director Bonita Rownd that he asked her for help in transferring Michael Nellums from his position as principal of the Jacksonville Middle School boys campus.

On Oct. 18, Rownd sent a letter to then-acting PCSSD superintendent Robert Clowers alleging that Jeter sought her help because Nellums had a lot of community support in the Jacksonville area.

According to Rownd’s letter, Jeter told her privately that Nellums “didn’t have the experience to handle the intricacies of a challenging new program” and said he needed to be moved to another school, but that the community seemed to support Nellums.

In her letter, Rownd wrote that Jeter charged that Nellums, school board member Rev. James Bolden III and Karl Brown, assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services, had formed “a power block to try to get things done their own way.”

Speaking Monday night after a community meeting over the proposed closing of Homer Adkins Elementary School, Jeter flatly denied having that conversation or anything resembling it with Rownd.

“I deny the accusations made in the first and second paragraphs of Ms. Rownd’s letter,” Jeter wrote in a memo to Clowers.
“Although I have previously discussed with you my disappointment in Michael Nellums’ performance as principal of Jacksonville Middle School, boys campus, I did not discuss that personally with Ms. Rownd.”

“I stand by my letter,” Rownd said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t want to escalate the rhetoric. I don’t want to get into a war of words.”
Jeter said he didn’t include Skip Lathem, superintendent of Forest Municipal Schools, as a reference when he sought his current job with Pulaski County Special School District because “I was philosophically, ethically and morally repulsed by Mr. Lathem’s position on the inequitable treatment of students and teachers.”

In a telephone interview last week, Lathem said Jeter was involved in “divisive-type issues” while at the district and was not eligible for rehire as long as he was superintendent.

“Whatever the problem between Mr. Jeter and Mr. Lathem, I don’t know,” said Sammye Jean Webb, former president of the Forest Municipal School District Board and Jeter’s reference in lieu of Lathem.

“The students liked him very well,” she said. Webb, who said Jeter told her Tuesday to expect a reporter’s inquiry, confirmed that prior to Jeter’s arrival, the district had segregated proms but said she didn’t know if racial issues were at the root of the problems between Lathem and Jeter. She characterized Jeter as very forward-looking and talented.

“He had some ideas that might have worked had he been able to put them in place,” Webb said.

Webb said she didn’t recall whether or not PCSSD personnel had checked with her as Jeter’s reference before he was hired.
Jeter said that while academics were his priority, he never neglected his duties as athletic director for the district.