Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TOP STORY >> New chief at Lonoke schools is appointed

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke School Board on Monday hired Suzanne Bailey, a Beebe native with roots in Lonoke County, to take over as superintendent on July 1.

John Tackett, a 17-year veteran of the district, resigned his position to work for the Pulaski County Special School District as its director of secondary education. His last day is June 30.

Additionally, Assistant Superintendent Melissa Tash is leaving the district. She was hired as the director of curriculum and instruction and federal programs for the Bald Knob School District.

This was her second year at Lonoke.

Bailey is coming from the Waldron School District in Scott County. The small town is about 38 miles south of Fort Smith. Bailey said Waldron andLonoke both have 4A schools, meaning their enrollment is about the same, so she is comfortable with making that transition.

Bailey said, “I’m excited to come to Lonoke and meet everyone. I’ve heard wonderful things over the years about Lonoke schools. I’m hoping I can bring some new ideas and continue the success the Lonoke School District has.

“Getting to know the staff, that is extremely important, to just go in and talk to people, to find out why they love Lonoke. You can learn a lot from being a good listener.”

She continued, “It is very important for students to have voice. Building relationships is my strong suit and accountability. I place a lot of accountability on myself, No. 1, and that flows down the line. If a leader holds himself or herself accountable, then others follow suit. I also don’t think you can get in trouble for over communicating.”

Bailey said she wants to find out what the district’s “strengths and growth areas” are from the school board, staff, parents and students.

She would like to speak with Tackett before he leaves the district. Bailey also plans to work with the board to meet specific goals.

“I’ll find out more details from them. We’ll get a little bit deeper into the needs of the schools,” she said.

Bailey has been superintendent in Waldron for two years. She said two achievements made while she was at the helm there were a “tremendous” increase in test scores and the formation of a student leadership team.

Bailey said, “I really believe it was because of the teamwork. It’s trust. People have to trust you as a district leader to follow you. Student achievement is top priority. If it’s not what’s best for kids, I won’t be for it.”

She said she also aims to be transparent.

Board president Darrell Park said, “We interviewed some very good candidates. We came to the conclusion that Ms. Bailey would be our best option at this time, the best person for the job at this time.”

Board member Chris James said he felt she could help move the district forward.

The board held four special meetings to discuss personnel in executive session after accepting Tackett’s resignation on May 21. The sessions, combined, were 11 hours long.

During those special meetings, members interviewed a handful of applicants for the position.

Before Bailey arrived at Waldron, she served for two years as the superintendent of the Maynard School District in Randolph County, spent four years as the principal of Newport Junior High School in Jackson County and was the Carlisle Elementary School principal for four years.

Bailey graduated from Beebe High School in 1987.

In 1991, she earned a bachelor’s from University of Central Arkansas in Conway. She later earned a master’s degree from Harding University is Searcy, where she is working on her dissertation for a doctorate. She hopes to have her Ph.D. by next summer.

Bailey’s first job was teaching second-grade, third-grade and gifted and talented classes at Beebe Elementary School.

Her husband, Chris, is from Carlisle and his father, Jim Bailey, lives in Lonoke.

Bailey has two children and one grandson, 3-month-old Landen.

Her son, Benjamin, is going into fourth-grade.

Her daughter, Lauren Gunter, is married to Scott Gunter and works as a teacher in Beebe.

Education runs in the family, Bailey said. Her mother was also a teacher. The new superintendent said her entire family lives within a 20- or 30-minute drive of Lonoke