Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TOP STORY >> New chief appointed for PCSSD

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District has a new leader—at least for one year—and he’s Dr. Jerry Guess, the superintendent for the Camden Fairview School District.

Guess will take over Tuesday. He will continue in his job as Camden Fairview superintendent through this week before reporting to PCSSD.

Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester is on vacation and will return Tuesday.

Dr. Tom Kimbrell, the state’s education commissioner, said Lester would stay on part-time for a few weeks to help with the transition.

Guess, 60, who has headed Camden Fairview for the past 15 years, will be paid $215,000 a year to head the fiscally distressed PCSSD for the state, which took over the district about two weeks ago and removed the superintendent and dissolved the school board.

State-ousted Dr. Charles Hopson was making $205,000.

Guess, who was making $115,000 a year as the Camden Fairview chief, will soon move to central Arkansas, but his wife will stay in Camden and continue her job as that district’s fiscal officer.

Kimbrell introduced Guess to the media at a press conference at the state education building in Little Rock on Tuesday, saying he had the personality and skills to lead PCSSD.

Kimbrell said Guess was so surprised at the job offer, he stuttered when Kimbrell called to ask him to consider the job. He sang Guess’ praises as an admired leader who will bring stability to a district that needs it.

Guess, who was driving back Tuesday afternoon to Camden and enjoying the first rain south southern Arkansas has seen in about two months, said he has known Kimbrell a long time and has often talked about state and education issues with him.

“I know him and trust him,” Guess said. “The fact that he felt a need to call me about the position says a lot.”

Guess added that he is not just another new face. “I may be new to PCSSD, but I’m not new to Arkansas and not new to being a superintendent.”

He called the PCSSD job a challenge but vowed not to come in and shake things up right away.

“I’ve seen too many people come in to districts and do too much too quickly,” he said. “You have to understand the history, the background and the people. There are a lot of good things going on in the district and a lot of great things are happening for the students.”

Guess said, “I’ve been at Camden Fairview for 33 years. I would like the new challenge. Without a doubt, the problems at PCSSD are significant, but there will be a great deal of help from the people at the department and from any number of qualified people at the district.

“Right now, the biggest challenge is getting ready for the first day of school,” Guess added.

He said he wants to be part of the solution that brings good news in the district back into the newspapers.

Guess said he viewed Kimbrell as the “school board,” as law provides, but in weighing, for example, the need for state financial aid, he’ll consider students’ needs first.

But Guess is not without his detractors in Camden Fairview as a number of blogs indicate and had some controversies in his old district, including that both he and his wife held high administrative posts, a federal lawsuit when he would not let a white student transfer to another district, and an incident where a student was made to wear a shirt with a U.S. flag inside out so the flag wouldn’t show.

Guess began his educational career in 1978 as a language arts teacher in the Fairview district, which later consolidated with Camden.

He later served as the district’s coordinator for gifted and talented students, as assistant principal and principal of Fairview Middle School, and as assistant superintendent and associated superintendent of the Camden-Fairview district. He rose to his current post in 1996. 

Guess graduated from Chidester High School, not far from Camden. He received a bachelor’s degree from Southern State College in Magnolia, a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a doctorate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

Guess was the Arkansas superintendent of the year in 2008 as voted by the Arkansas Association of School Administrators. He is now president of the Arkansas Association of School Administrators, a post formerly held by Kimbrell.