Saturday, September 12, 2009

TOP STORY >> Beebe picks state head for schools

Leader staff writer

Gov. Mike Beebe announced Friday afternoon he is recommending Tom Kimbrell of Cabot for Arkansas education commissioner. He replaces Ken James, who resigned in July to head a private company that works with schools.

The state Board of Education is expected to consider Kimbrell’s hiring at its meeting Monday morning. If the vote goes as expected, the governor will confirm the hire at 10 a.m. Monday in the Governor’s Conference Room.

Kimbrell is the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Contacted in his office Friday afternoon, Kimbrell said if he is approved, his first speech as the new head of public education in Arkansas will be to the Rotary Club in Cabot, which meets at noon Tuesdays at Colton’s Steak House and Grill.

Matt DeCample, the governor’s spokesman, said although the board has authority to hire and fire the commissioner, it works closely with the governor, who has approval rights.

Over the past week or so, most of the board members have met with Kimbrell, Decample said.

“The governor’s top priority was to find someone who shares his vision and standards for school achievement,” he said.

The job requires someone who can work with a wide variety of groups. Kimbrell’s current employment has prepared him for that, DeCample said, adding, “And frankly, he’s an easy guy to get along with.”

Kimbrell, 47, has been an educator for 25 years. He has been superintendent of both the Paragould and North Little Rock school districts.

His wife, Tina Kimbrell, is in her fourth year at the Cabot School District. She started as head of the district’s pre-K program but is now over federal programs. The couple moved to Cabot in December 2005.

Kimbrell says he is for local control of schools, but it is his vision and the governor’s to see “the right people in positions to help schools get better.”

That doesn’t mean state control, he said, but participation from more people.

“The key is getting the right people in the community involved,” he said.

Kimbrell was elected in May 2005 as the second executive director of the 30-year-old Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators.

Although he has not yet been hired, Kimbrell addressed criticisms that were showing up on news blogs just hours after the governor’s announcement.

He is for local control of schools, he said, but he wants those local officials to be concerned about kids getting an education that will make them able to compete.

He is not a proponent of school mergers unless there are fiscal or academic reason they should merge, he said.

And no, he does not favor school administrators over teachers. He comes from a family of both, he said.

He started his education career as a classroom math and science teacher and a coach in the Pocahontas School District.

Although his wife is in administration now, her first love is pre-K.

Kimbrell received his doctorate degree from Arkansas State University in 2003.