Tuesday, July 05, 2011

TOP STORY >> First day is productive

Leader staff writer

Dr. Jerry Guess called his first day at the helm of the Pulaski County Special School District productive and said it went well.

As Guess, 60, was getting his feet wet, the state education commissioner, Dr. Tom Kimbrell of Cabot, was looking for people to complete an advisory board to assist Guess.

Interim Superintendent Bobby Lester of Jacksonville, along with former PCSSD financial officer Don Stewart are slated to be part of that panel.

Stewart now has his own consulting firm and has shown that Jacksonville could financially support its own school district.

“Our focus is on the first day of school,” Guess said, hoping to have everything going right.

The former Camden Fairview superintendent moved up to central Arkansas over the weekend. “I got a small apartment in the school-district zone. Spent my first night there Monday night.”

“My day started at 6:30 Tuesday morning, and when I went to my office, Bobby Lester was already waiting on me,” Guess said.

The state education commissioner appointed the new superintendent from the Camden Fairview School District to the PCSSD post last week. The state took over the fiscally distressed district in late June.

Guess said he spent about 90 minutes in talks with Lester. “He gave me the history of the district, his insights and what our challenges are,” Guess said.

The new superintendent then met with central office staff. “It was a good meeting and sharing of ideas. I let the staff know what I wanted the tone to be—positive—and the importance of focusing on the education of our kids.”

By 10 a.m. Guess was in with the administrative and support staff of the district’s two new schools—Maumelle High School and Sylvan Hills Middle School—set to open in August.

“It was a three-hour long meeting and we touched on every possible issue from the coming year like transportation, textbooks, desks, supplies and teacher assignments,” Guess said, adding that the meeting was chaired by Derek Scott, the district’s director of operations.

Guess knows that Kimbrell is working to put together an advisory group that more than likely will include Lester, Stewart and others, but there is no timeline for the group to start.

“Dr. Kimbrell is still talking to people who he would like on the advisory board,” said Seth Blomeley, spokesman for the Education Department.

Guess is looking forward to working with the board, but also said he had plenty of help on his first day.

“We had state department people in and out all day and they were extremely helpful in telling the new chief what should be done.

Guess will be paid $215,000, $100,000 more than he was making as the chief of the Camden Fairview District, to head the fiscally distressed PCSSD for the state, which took over the district last month and removed the superintendent and dissolved the school board.

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

When Kimbrell appointed Guess last week, Guess said, “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. 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.”

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