Tuesday, July 25, 2017

TOP STORY >> Guess: Did it my way, no regrets

Leader senior staff writer

Former Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess isn’t happy about being fired by the board last week, but he says he’s still rooting for the district to continue its success and thinks hiring Janice Walker to replace him is the best possible start.

With school starting in less than a month, he said promoting Warren, who was serving as assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services, is great for the district. “She was there,” he said. “She knows the business, is a responsible money manager” and knows the challenges and the personnel.

“She has a very good record. She retired (as Crossett superintendent) and worked her way up through the system,” Guess said. “She is an academic leader, recognized as one of the people who understands instruction, curriculum and assessment. She knows the use of data to improve student performance. She is recognized in the state.”

“She’s got some good people around her, good people she can rely on,” he said. “She’ll trust them and give them the flexibility todo the job, but as she likes to say, ‘You have to inspect what you expect.”

He called his tenure at PCSSD “the best six years of my life, a great opportunity to be part of some things that had never been done. We had a lot of great people and a great opportunity to work with education commissioners, discuss problems and come up with solutions.”

Guess said the existing cabinet, principals, assistant principals and teachers are top quality. “We’ve done a great job over the last six years hiring people dedicated to instruction and eliminating those who didn’t have their heart in the job.”

What advice would he give his successor?

“I don’t know I can give Janice any advice,” he said. “Her style will produce results. She’s proven through her years of service. When I wasn’t sure what to do, I’d sit down and ask her.”


Guess had two charges when state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell hired him to run PCSSD in 2011 — to move the district out of fiscal distress and to make it more fully desegregated.

When Guess became superintendent, PCSSD had nine areas in which it was not deemed unitary — that is desegregated. Only three remain today: Facilities, student achievement and discipline.

To get out of fiscal distress, Guess nullified contracts with the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers and Pulaski Association of Support Staff.

“We were overstaffed and gave up a lot of money in PASS and PACT agreements — teachers in the district had a retirement severance package. I identified things that were in excess of state standards and of what most districts do,” Guess said.

Even without the severance package, teachers have excellent retirement benefits, including checks equal to a substantial portion of their old paychecks, he said.

Bringing in Bill Goff as chief financial officer was a great help getting out of fiscal distress. “I’m not sure we would have gotten out without his help,” Guess said.

Guess and the Roberts Law Firm helped lead the way for the settlement, which ended state desegregation payments and paved the way for a the new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District.

By splitting Jacksonville off, both districts could move more quickly to satisfy the unitary requirement of good and equitable facilities for the students, Guess said.


PCSSD is building new Mills and Robinson high schools, worth about $140 million and just extended an existing millage to building a new Sylvan Hills High School for about $62 million.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville will open bids on its new $60 million high school next week and have also begun work on the new $20 million Bobby G. Lester Elementary School and two new $1 million multi-purpose buildings — one for Murrell Taylor Elementary and one for Bayou Meto Elementary.


The $10 million Donaldson Scholars Program started under Guess.

At the last graduation, Guess estimated that at least 100 students, most from families who have never had a college graduate, stood up when asked who was planning to attend UALR or Philander Smith College.

That program provides tutoring, mentoring, preparation of the ACT test and college orientation.

He said he was proud of starting participation in the Donaldson Scholars Program. “I have the heart of a teacher,” he said.


He’s not sure what’s next for him. He’s back home in Camden full-time now and expecting a visit from his son, who is graduating from West Point as a civil engineer.

“The job has consumed me for six years. I have a lot of catching up to do — a lot of things I’ve deferred.”

This would have been Guess’ 41st year in public education, which he strongly believes in.

His wife, Rita, is chief financial officer for the Sheridan School District.