Friday, June 02, 2017

EDITORIAL >> District loses key leaders

A retirement party for Tony Wood, superintendent of the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District, was held Friday at the Jacksonville Community Center, where former Gov. Mike Beebe saluted the long-time educator for his 45 years of outstanding service.

Some 75 well-wishers, including state Education Commissioner Johnny Key, turned out to honor Wood for helping to establish the new school district as it separated from the Pulaski County Special School District. His last day as superintendent is June 30.

Bryan Duffie, an assistant superintendent, will take over for Wood starting July 1.

Wood has led JNPSD for the last two years after stepping down as state education commissioner. He has developed plans to build a new $65 million high school at the old middle school site downtown and a new $16.5 million elementary school near Harris and General Samuels roads.

The new high school is set to open in fall of 2019. The new elementary will open in 2018. The new campuses are key for Jacksonville being released from court oversight. They are also the reason why Jacksonville fought for decades to break off from PCSSD, which didn’t build a new school in Jacksonville for at least 30 years.

The new campuses are seen as the gateway to boosting academic programs, student achievement, attracting families and rebuilding the Jacksonville community.

Wood’s bold and ambitious leadership matched the city’s vision for its brighter future. All this on a tight budget, declining enrollment and opposition from John Walker, the longtime civil rights attorney, who’s been unimpressed with Jacksonville’s efforts to transform its school system. Thanks to Wood, and his whip-smart team, the new district, and the town as a whole, is on the right course to a successful future.

His chief of staff, Phyllis Stewart, is also leaving June 30, as is Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Owoh, who is taking a top job in the state Education Department.

They, too, deserve a lot of credit for establishing the new district. It took savvy, determination and, most of all, teamwork.

Stewart said of Wood, “The most critical traits needed in a school superintendent are integrity, experience, leadership and a true desire to serve. Tony Wood is all of those. He has built the ship and has it sailing in open seas.”

Mayor Gary Fletcher also praised Wood, “I think our city and our community were blessed that Tony Wood took the job at a time in his life when he didn’t have to take it.”

Wood was set to retire from a long career in education before signing on to lead JNPSD.

“There’s just not enough good things to say about the man. He was our first choice before the district was even formed. He will be sorely missed. I certainly appreciate the two years he gave us. The district’s on very solid footing because of his leadership and the team he brought together,” Fletcher said.

Because of the hard work of Wood and his staff, the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District will thrive under Duffie’s leadership.

Thank you, Tony Wood, Phyllis Stewart, Jeremy Owoh and former Superintendent Bobby Lester for all your contributions to public education in Jacksonville and around the state.