Friday, October 12, 2012

EDITORIAL >> ‘We can, we must, we will’

The world lost a talented and committed educator this week, long before his time.

Charles Hopson, 54, former superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District, died in Houston on Tuesday.

He brought many new ideas to PCSSD from his two decades with progressive Portland, Ore., public schools including some that survive him and his ignominious and ill-conceived firing at the direction of the Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell. With the district in fiscal distress, the state took over and Kimbrell dismissed the school board and ordered Hopson fired.

In firing Hopson, we think he threw out the baby with the bathwater. The board was the bathwater.

Hopson sued the district and the state, claiming his contract called for a buyout should he be fired, and elements of that suit survive him.

While in Portland, Hopson implemented changes that produced increases in achievement and decreases in suspensions and expulsions. His colleagues there praised his instincts in dealing with people and skills in encouraging open lines of communication.

Hopson led by example. He hired experts in their fields and trusted in their judgment.

At least two remain — Derek Scott, as chief of operations and Derrick Brown, chief of information technology.

Neither Scott nor Brown were educators. Scott, a retired Air Force colonel, spent his military career overseeing building construction and maintenance. He was hired to help rebuild, remodel or repair the district’s 34 school buildings, nearly all of which are about 50 years old.

Hopson’s iPad was always in arm’s reach at PCSSD, and he hired Brown to bring the district’s communications, copy technology, computers and Internet into the 21st Century and at the best price.

“He was my mentor and colleague,” Brown says. “I believe he had an impact on things we do today — the $7 million in school building improvements are part of his 2020 plan. His technology plan is coming to fruition.”

Some teachers, administrators and parents alike noted that while Hopson could be reserved, he was a people person, often going to visit schools and communities.

He hired consultants to help promote better understanding between races among teachers, administrators and board members.

Rickey Hicks, his attorney and long-time friend, said with Hopson’s death, the constitutional part of the lawsuit goes away, but his $500,000 property claim to his contract — particularly regarding the buyout he was denied — continues through his estate, with his wife the executor.

“We met while both students at the University of Central Arkansas,” Hicks says. “His was one of those heroic American stories. He grew up in Prescott and became one of the leading educational administrators in the country, on the leading edge. His passion always was young people and education, which he saw as the key to living the American Dream.”

Hopson’s creed was: “We Can. We Will. We Must.” His legacy lives on. — John Hofheimer