Friday, January 13, 2006

TOP STORY >> PCSSD hopefuls give views

Leader managing editor

IN SHORT: Candidates for the district’s top position have varied backgrounds working with the issues that have plagued the Pulaski County Special School District.

Experience working with desegregation, finances and a history of improving financially troubled school districts is a common theme among the eight applicants for the superintendent position at Pulaski County Special School District.

The Leader talked with seven of the eight candidates who have completed the application process, and all were looking forward to the possibility of accepting a challenge to not only help the district’s financial woes, but also help develop plans to cure uneasiness in many areas the district is facing.

“(The problems) have to be fixed by somebody,” said Bettye Wright of Villa Rica, Ga., one of the applicants for the position.

Thomas Jacobson with the Omaha, Neb.-based national search firm, Mc-Pherson and Jacobson Executive Recruitment and Development, will be meeting with the PCSSD Board on Monday to go over the resumes and backgrounds of the eight candidates.

From there, a list of finalists, typically four, will be formed. Those finalists will then begin an interview process, which is scheduled to be held the week of Jan. 23.

The candidates, listed alphabetically, their educational and professional backgrounds, and comments regarding their interest in the PCSSD position:

Dr. Craig Bangston,
Leitchfield, Ky.

Bangston is very familiar with the Pulaski County Special School District, being a finalist for the position when Gary Smith was hired in 1999 to replace longtime superintendent Bobby Lester.

“I was happy to learn the position was open again,” Bangston said Thursday from his home in Leitchfield, Ky. “When I came down a few years ago for an interview I met a lot of good people and felt there were a lot of positives about the position. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed I didn’t get the job. I just wasn’t the person they were looking for at the time.”

Bangston was superintendent at Grayson County (Mo.) School District when he interviewed for the PCSSD position in 1999 and he held that position until 2002 when he became superintendent at Bartow County (Ga.), a school system with 15,000 students.

He retired at the end of last school year and became a financial consultant for a group of doctors, but recently discovered that “he missed the schools.”

“And I learned that being a financial consultant is a little boring,” he said.

Bangston received his bachelor’s from Bemidji State University in 1972, his master’s from Bemidji State in 1972 and a doctorate from Columbia Pacific University in 1987. He also spent 1995-1998 receiving post-doctorate studies in education administration from Harvard and Vanderbilt universities.

He has been superintendent at five school districts in four states, ranging in student enrollment from 450 to the 15,000 at his last job.
“The biggest challenge with anyone coming in is being accepted in the community and learning the positives and negatives of the system,” Bangston said.

And he’s aware there’s an array of negatives with the PCSSD post.

“I feel it’s a good challenge,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to prove my skills. It’s a lot easier to follow a superintendent tenure that has had bumps rather than a perfect one because all you can do is go up.
“I do feel, with the help of the board and the community, the focus can be put back on the students.”
Getting the district’s financial situation straight would be one of his top priorities, he said.

“My background in finance has helped me in the past and I’m sure it will help me again in the future,” Bangston said. “But I feel you need a happy balance with fiscal and economic strategies to curriculum strategies. That balance is hard to find.”

Dr. Betty Cox,
Baton Rouge, La.

An extensive background in desegregation is why Cox feels she would be a good fit for the district, she said Thursday.

“My interest in the position was the demographics of the school district and the requisite for their superintendent,” she said. “What I know about (PCSSD) is that I feel they need a seasoned superintendent with a desegregation background.”

Cox is currently an attorney with Barnes and Greenfield Law Firm in Baton Rouge, La., most of her cases involving school law, but said she has the desire to return to leading a school system.

She last worked with a school district when she was vice-president of Edison Schools in New York City from 2001-2002. Prior to that, she served from 1994-1998 as superintendent at Rapides Parish (La.) School District, which has 26,000 students.

Other superintendent posts have included Darlington Co., S.C., with an enrollment of 13,000, from 1991-1994 and Towanda Area schools in Pennsylvania, 2,500 enrollment, from 1989-1991.

“I have been a teacher and a principal as well and I realize the great success in these roles,” Cox said. “There is not much I am not familiar with as far as an administration for a school district.

“I feel like I would be able to realize the tremendous efforts in student achievement and work well with the communities, the parents and the employees and certainly be in compliance with federal regulations.”

Cox received her bachelor’s in elementary education from the University of Tennessee in 1973, her master’s in curriculum and instruction from Tennessee in 1975 and her doctorate from Tennessee in 1982. She received her law degree from Louisiana State University.

Dr. Carl Davis,
Powder Springs, Ga.

Davis has been deputy chief of human resources for the Cobb County Schools, a 106,000-student district near Atlanta, since the start of this school year.

He was an area assistant superintendent at Cobb County from 2002-2005 and prior to that served from 1999-2002 as superintendent at Natchez (Miss.) Public Schools, which has 5,600 students.

When contacted by The Leader Thursday night, Davis politely de-clined to comment on the Pulaski County Special School District position.

Davis, who has also worked in administrative roles with the Hattiesburg and Moss Point school systems in Mississippi, received his bachelor’s in elementary and secondary education from Southern Mississippi University in 1975, his master’s in elementary education from William Carey College in 1987 and his doctorate from Southern Miss in 1995.

Dr. Bruce Harter,
Wilmington, Del.

Harter, who has been superintendent of Brandywine (Del.) School District since 2001, could not be reached for comment on the PCSSD position.

Harter started his administrative career as a principal and associate superintendent in a 27,000-student district in Vista, Calif., from 1988-1992 before landing his first superintendent position in Corvallis, Ore., a district of 7,500, from 1992-1997.

From there, Har-ter moved to the Lee County School District in Fort Myers, Fla., a district with 70,000 students, where he was superintendent from 1997-2001, before moving to the Brandywine district.

Dr. Aquine Jackson,
Milwaukee, Wisc.

After almost reaching the top of the educational ladder during an entire career with the 100,000-student Milwaukee Public School system, Jackson is hoping to use his array of strengths to help improve the Pulaski County Special School District, he told The Leader on Friday.

“I see the position (at PCSSD) as a challenge, but as a challenge I am prepared for,” said Jackson, currently the chief academic officer with the Milwaukee district.

After three years of working as an elementary school principal, Jackson become an area and community superintendent in Milwaukee, where he oversaw a 20,000-students area of the district, from 1985-1990.
“It was like I was a superintendent equivalent to the size of many large districts across the country,” he said.
Jackson became director of students services at the district in 1990 and held that position until 2001, when he became director of neighborhood schools, a spot he held from 2001-2004. “I feel my experience here is an excellent match for what the Pulaski County Special School District needs,” Jackson said.
Jackson has certainly done his homework regarding PCSSD.

“The needs of the district seemed to match my skills as far as working with the court-ordered desegregation, raising student achievement levels, helping the fiscal situation of the district and improving a relationship with the board and the various communities,” said Jackson, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, but his father is from Pine Bluff, he said.

Jackson received a bachelor’s in physical education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1969, a master’s in education from Wisconsin-Mil-waukee in 1973 and a doctorate from the school in 1980.

“I’ve been responsible for implementing a court-ordered desegregation plan here and we met the stipulation of the court order,” he said. “ … and one reason why the superintendent put me in the position I have now is to get the area’s finances in order.”

Dr. Ed Musgrove,
Waynesville, Mo.

Moving to Arkansas has become a priority for Musgrove and the PCSSD seems like the perfect fit, he said.
Musgrove, who has been superintendent for the Waynesville (Mo.) School District (enrollment 5,200) since 2000, has family in central Arkansas and spends a lot of time in the area, he said.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Natural State and I’ve been researching a lot about the history of the school district,” Musgrove said Friday.

Musgrove received his bachelor’s in education from Missouri Southern University in 1976 his master’s in education from Southwest Missouri State in 1979 and his doctorate from the University of Missouri in 1988.
He has been superintendent at four school districts in Missouri, which ranged in enrollment from 250 students to the 5,200 at Waynesville. He has also been assistant superintendent at the 3,000-student Union (Mo.) School District from 1994-1997 and the 6,000-student St. Charles (Mo.) School District from 1997-2000.

“I feel I bring a wealth of experience and background, including a lot of multicultural diversity,” Musgrove said.
“My focus is doing what can be done to improve the education of the children.”

He’s familiar with the struggles of the district and, if hired, looks forward to working to continue a pattern to help fix the problems PCSSD has recently faced.

“My entire career has been involved with school districts where there has been some unrest and I’ve moved into the area and facilitated improvement,” Musgrove said.

“If there is dissension at Pulaski County, there must be reason for that. But no one person can do it. It takes a team of adults listening to the needs of the children and help make things happen.
“Every place I’ve been at things have improved.”

James Sharpe,
Little Rock

Sharpe, the current interim superintendent, has been with PCSSD since 2000, when he was hired as assistant superintendent for human resources, a position he held until being named interim superintendent in December.

“I feel as if I can lead the district successfully,” Sharpe said, adding he felt he could help bring the district out of fiscal distress and that he enjoyed the support from others in the central office and elsewhere.
He said understands the various challenges facing the district and is ready to lead.

Sharpe has been a principal and director of human resources at St. Cloud Schools in Minnesota from 1994-1998 and was also executive director of Flint (Mich.) Community Schools from 1998-2000.

He received his bachelor’s in chemistry from Philander Smith College in 1964 and his master’s in chemistry from Pittsburg State University in 1974.

He was certified to be an administrator at the University of Tulsa in 1990.

Dr. Bettye Wright,
Villa Rica, Ga.

While Wright has been a principal in the Atlanta School District since 2001, she has very strong ties to Arkansas, still owning a home in White Hall.

“Arkansas is a state I love,” Wright said.

Wright, who earned her bachelor’s in business education from Stillman College in 1970, her master’s from Chicago State University in 1975 and a doctorate in education from the University of Ark-ansas in 1994, spent 20 years in the Pine Bluff School District, including 11 years as an assistant superintendent.

She’s currently a principal at Boyd Elementary in a low-income area of Atlanta, one of three elementary schools in the 50,000-student district which has a year-round calendar.

“I left Pine Bluff in 2000 to be with my husband, who moved to Georgia to attend seminary to be a Presbyterian minister,” Wright said. “I hated to quit my job, but I felt the Lord was calling him to do that.”

While she hasn’t been involved in helping oversee a district since leaving Pine Bluff, she said she feels she has the qualities to quickly adapt to the superintendent role at PCSSD.

“I understand the educational system there,” Wright said of the PCSSD and Arkansas. “I have worked on many committees with the state Department of Education when I was in Pine Bluff and have been president of the Arkansas Association of Administrators.”

Due to her connections to the state, Wright said she is aware of the woes the district has faced in recent years.
“Somebody in the leadership of the district has to fix the problems and I just know I’m a person who can fix problems,” Wright said. “I know how to work through conflicts and I know how to work with people.

“But, the main thing is, I believe in the children.”