Tuesday, August 17, 2010

TOP STORY > >Hopson hopes he’ll find unity

Leader senior staff writer

New Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Charles Hopson on Monday night laid out the limits of his authority and that of the board, referring to his role as that of chief operating officer as related to teaching, learning and operations.

The board, he said, was charged with making policy decisions. This board, which has micromanaged everything through the terms of at least the last three superintendents, may chafe at that restraint, but so far the members have been supportive of Hopson.

To succeed, Hopson must unravel the Gordian knot that is the relationship between the board, the union, and now the members of the just-formed personnel-policies committee. A Gordian knot is an intractable problem solved with a bold stroke.

Alexander the Great, according to legend, solved the original Gordian knot where others had failed, not by untying it, but by cleaving it with a blow from his sword. Hopson seems to be opting for a more subtle approach, but the challenge may be equally formidable.

Based on an e-mail he sent the board members, at Monday night’s special board meeting, Hopson read a prepared statement, taking responsibility for the controversial changes to the bell schedule, which affects the length of both the teachers’ day and the students’.

Hopson said educational matters were his purview and policy matters were the board’s.

“Our patrons seem confused about where your responsibility as board members begins and ends,” said the superintendent.

“Some of this may be the result of blurred lines with past superintendents, but that cannot and will not be the case with this superintendent and our public needs to hear that from me,” he said.

“I was hired to improve academic achievement. The bell schedule and educational minutes…are out of alignment with the rest of the country.”

He said he had received more than 30 e-mails from patrons about the bell-schedule change, which would have originally left elementary school students at the bus stop in the dark at 6:30 a.m.

Many blamed the board, and there is some evidence that the board had considered the matter previously. But, he said, “As a superintendent with a moral imperative, I cannot allow a decision I made alone as an instructional leader to be political fodder that marginalizes any … of you as board members.”

The bell schedule is my domain as superintendent, he said. It is not and never was anything that required a board vote, he said.

“It is not a policy matter.”

Hopson told the board and those in the meeting room that in June, “while the entire district was in limbo pending a decision from Judge Fox,” at the urging of board member Gwen Williams he had met with PACT president Marty Nix and they had discussed the bell schedule, which he hoped could be settled in mediation.

But the entire process ran out of time he said.

The district has a chief financial officer—Hopson has brought in retired Lt. Col. Derek Scott to be chief of facilities. Scott served 27 years in the Air Force, including 18 years managing large facilities, some of them in Iraq.

He also has hired Rodney Matheney as co-deputy superintendent for learning services. Matheney was West Campus principal at Conway.