Tuesday, April 14, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Why districts look to Cabot

The Van Buren School Board voted unanimously last week to hire Cabot School District deputy superintendent Harold Jeffcoat as the new superintendent of the historic community in western Arkansas.

Dr. Jeffcoat, 40, is moving to a smaller district with an enrollment of about 6,000 students and a dozen schools, compared with Cabot’s 10,000-plus enrollment and 16 schools. But it’s an opportunity Jeffcoat couldn’t pass up: Jeffcoat will receive a three-year contract and will earn $165,000 annually with benefits — about a 60 percent pay increase from his current salary of $101,322.

Jeffcoat starts his new job July 1. The Van Buren board interviewed the top five candidates in the last two weeks. Seventeen applicants from across the country applied for the position.

He has been the deputy superintendent of Cabot Schools since 2012 and was the curriculum director for four years before that.

“I love Cabot. Cabot Public Schools has been good to me and my family. It is a great place to grow in leadership and for my children to receive their education,” Jeffcoat told our reporter Jeffrey Smith.

“It is a great opportunity for me and my family. I’m extremely excited to be selected as superintendent,” Jeffcoat said.

He said Superintendent Tony Thurman has influenced his leadership style. “I’ve trained under some of the best qualified leaders in Arkansas,” Jeffcoat said.

“Looking back on my career at Cabot, it has not been a building or a program I am most proud of — it is relationships that I’ve built within the community,” he said.

Jeffcoat oversaw construction of the Freshman Academy, which was built under budget and ahead of schedule.

Before moving to Cabot, Jeffcoat was an intermediate school principal in Sheridan, an elementary school principal in Benton and a fifth-grade teacher in Benton and Little Rock.

Jeffcoat ran a construction business while he attended college and is still involved in Habitat for Humanity. He served in the Army National Guard for eight years. A graduate of Bauxite High School, he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education and a doctorate in educational administration at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His dissertation focused on poor children growing up in homes without books.

Thurman said, “We are very proud that Dr. Jeffcoat was selected by Van Buren to be their superintendent. They have certainly made a very good choice. Dr. Jeffcoat has made a positive impact on our district and he will do the same for Van Buren.”

“We’ve had several assistant principals leave our district the past few years to take principal positions in other districts. We’ve also had several teachers leave our district for administrative positions in other districts,” Thurman told us.

“We had one of our district directors approached by a nonprofit education organization this past week wanting to gauge their interest in leaving Cabot schools. It is more common than anyone realizes for our leadership to be approached by other districts and organizations.

“We have quite a talent pool in Cabot,” Thurman added, “and there aren’t that many jobs in administration that become available. I also know that many of our administrators, both at the building and district level, choose not to pursue other opportunities even when approached, because they want to remain a part of our district and community. So, in the same context that we’ve sent strong administrators across the state, the ability to retain very strong talent is also a credit to what we’ve built in the district.

“I’m in my eighth year as superintendent,” Thurman continued. “It certainly isn’t about me, but there are great advantages to having consistency and stability in leadership. We’ve assembled a strong team in our district. We trust one another and work well together and having this type of working relationship helps us through the challenges that inevitably are a part of being in leadership positions.

“In regard to Dr. Jeffcoat’s hiring by Van Buren, it is interesting to note that he was the only candidate of the five finalists who was not a current superintendent. That is certainly a credit to Dr. Jeffcoat, but also a credit to the experience he has gained in our district over the last seven years.”

Van Buren’s gain is Cabot’s loss. But Cabot has a deep bench and its next deputy superintendent will help Thurman lead the district to new heights until others — perhaps Jacksonville? — try to hire away Cabot’s talent. Go, Panthers!