Wednesday, January 25, 2006

TOP STORY >> Hopefuls confident they can ease woes

Leader managing editor

The first two candidates interviewing with the school board for the Pulaski County Special School District’s superintendent position feel they have the experience to help solve the district’s many woes.

One is more familiar with the situation than the other, who said he’s catching up quickly thanks to many hours of research and the help of the Internet.

James Sharpe, 64, current interim superintendent and the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, and Dr. Aquine Jackson, 59, chief academic officer with Milwaukee Public Schools, interviewed with the board Monday and Tuesday.

The interviews, which en-ded day-long meetings and sessions with district employees, school principals and members of the community ended the first two days of a five-day process that will continue until Friday.

Dr. Carl Davis, director of human resources with Cobb County (Ga.) Schools, will be in the area today, including a 5:30 p.m. public forum at district headquarters. Dr. Bruce Harter, superintendent with the Brandywine (Del.) School District, will have the same schedule on Thursday, and Dr. Ed Musgrove, superintendent of the Waynesville (Mo.) School District, will wrap up the process on Friday.

Jackson had his day in the spotlight on Monday, which included a tour of schools in each of the district’s four spread-out zones. Those visits gave him one of his biggest areas of concerns for the district — facilities.

“There is a wide range of facilities in the district and is something I plan on discussing with the board,” Jackson said Monday afternoon, hours before he was planned to interview with the board.

Many poor facilities are among an array of difficulties the district is currently facing. Financial woes, being under the desegregation court order and uneasiness among members of the district’s various communities are all problems Jackson is aware of.
And while he admitted he was concerned with the uncertainty the district is facing, he said he is confident he is the man for the job and has the experience in all areas to help turn the district around.

“The staff that I talked with really want this district to survive, be successful and do the job that it was designed to do, and that’s to educate kids,” said Jackson, who has spent his entire 35-year education career with Milwaukee Public Schools. “I think with my experience, it’s the right time for me, and this is the right place. I think my accomplishments mirror the very needs of what this district needs.

“I have dealt with these kind of problems before, and if the board is willing to work together to create a plan to help the district, then it will work. We can work together,” Jackson added.

Sharpe said the five and a half years he’s worked at the district have helped him become familiar with the uniqueness of the PCSSD and makes him the right choice to help fix the problems.

“It takes a while to learn the interests and dynamics of this district, to learn and understand its culture … and to even understand its subculture, the individual communities within the district,” Sharpe said. “Knowing there are things broken and knowing they are fixable does energize me to want this job.”

Sharpe opted to go on a tour of district schools Tuesday morning, just as the other candidates, because he admitted there were some schools he had yet to visit and some school administrators he had yet to meet. “I learned some things I didn’t already know,” he said.

Sharpe received his bachelor’s in chemistry from Philander Smith College in Little Rock in 1964, his master’s degree in chemistry from Pittsburg State University in 1974 and his administration certification from the University of Tulsa in 1990.

From 1994-1998, he was a high school principal and director of human resources in the 11,500-student St. Cloud School District in Minnesota and then spent two years as executive director of the Flint (Mich.) Community Schools before being hired as PCSSD’s assistant superintendent for human re-sources in 2000.

If he’s selected as permanent superintendent, Sharpe said he wants to work on emphasizing school safety, improve the support and relationship with the various communities in the district and stay on task with various state mandates.

“We must also have a good communication network,” Sharpe said. “I want to start some type of publication, either weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, something. Right now we don’t have a consistent system of communication with our employees and parents.”
But at the top of the list of things to improve, he said, was the district’s financial woes.

“That’s the priority,” he said. “We’ve got to come out of this and satisfy the fiscal distress plan and the state Department of Education, and in the process, built trust and confidence with our communities.”