Monday, March 23, 2009

TOP STORY >> Principal named in reshuffle

Leader senior staff writer

In his first official personnel decision, Robert McGill, Pulaski County Special School District’s interim superintendent, has named Jacksonville Girls Middle School Principal Kimala Forrest principal of the combined, coeducational Jacksonville Middle School next year.

By a four-to-three vote, the PCSSD board voted March 10 to combine the boys and girls middle schools next year, rather than wait and allow the proposed stand-alone Jacksonville school district to make that choice.

Meanwhile, planning continues to consolidate the two schools in two buildings into one school in one building.

An earlier assessment had suggested that five portable buildings would be required, along with a network of sidewalks, site preparation, brand new electric service and significant plumbing.

James Warren, executive director of support services, had said that would have required shelving most other projects planned for this summer at sites across the district.

Warren says that a subsequent assessment concluded that portable buildings would not be necessary.

While it’s still too early to know all the details of the work necessary and the costs, he said that without the portable buildings, the district is likely to be able to perform the planned summer work throughout the district.

Mike Nellums, the controversial principal of the Boys Middle School, said he doesn’t know yet where he’ll be assigned.


“I’m excited about this new challenge and being able to work with an additional group,” Forrest said. “Middle school is exciting,” she said. “I love this age group.”

Forrest, 50, has been a principal in the district for five years — one year at Sylvan Hills Elementary, one year at Sylvan Hills Middle School and the past three years at Jacksonville Girls Middle School.

She is a Jacksonville resident and has worked in the district for 19 years.

Forrest says she’s confident that she can build on the progress made in the single-gender schools.

“I have the faculty and staff and I’m very confident we will meet and exceed expectations,” she said.

With an expected enrollment of 750-800 students, hers will be the largest middle school in the district. It will also have the most low-income students, which makes the challenge even greater, she said.


Forrest said that Thursday, she toured the current boys’ school, which will be converted to accommodate all the students.

She said that in addition to remodeling the girls’ bathrooms, there would have to be changes to some classrooms.

“We’ll have to add two more computer labs,” she said, “and reconfigure several rooms that have not been used.”

Floor tiles and ceilings will need replacing, and computer drops in some classrooms also need to be installed.

“I’m concerned about spaces for teachers. Teachers will have to roam. That’s a teacher morale issue. I know how they feel. Emotions are up in the air,” she said, particularly at the boys’ school, where the staff had really bent its back to the task of educating middle school boys.

“They have a great deal of respect for (Nellums),” she said. “I’m going to miss him, but he’s only a phone call away. He’s a very good friend and an outstanding man.”

Forrest’s task now is to work out a master schedule, get the teachers in place and then meet with them to relieve some of their fears.

“We need to work together to be successful,” she said.


Nellums said Thursday that Forrest was a great choice.

Said Nellums, who had hoped for the job, “If I’m not able to lead this school the way I think it should be led, she’s my top choice—a fine person and able administrator.

“She’s highly organized. She knows the community and the specific needs of the students in this community. This is a high-needs community.”

“They had two building principals and you had to move one. That’s a superintendent’s decision,” Nellums said.

He said he had enjoyed a smooth working relationship with Forrest. “I’ve very pleased with what we’ve accomplished over the past several years. Given what we were given to work with, we did a great job together.

“I look at moving on to the next place as a challenge,” he said.