Friday, April 17, 2015

TOP STORY >> Wood: We’ll make it work

Leader senior staff writer

As state Education Commissioner, Tony Wood was the de facto school board for both the Pulaski County Special School District and — by default — the emerging Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District. But, come July 1, he’ll be the new JNP superintendent.

Both Wood, 64, and Little Rock School District Associate Superintendent Marvin Burton interviewed this week for the job. Both men had supporters when the school board met in executive session Thursday night before emerging to hire Wood 6-0.

In the end, Wood’s skill set was the difference, said JNP School Board President Daniel Gray. He said Burton was well qualified and “he’s gonna’ land on his feet somewhere.”

More than one person suggested that Burton, who is part of a 64-person Little Rock School District reduction in force, would make an excellent hire as deputy superintendent.

Just in terms of demographics, Burton, who is black and 14 years younger than Wood, might be a good choice waiting in the wings when Wood retires.

“Communities need community schools,” said Wood, who was previously deputy education commissioner for four years under Tom Kimbrell.


“The people of Jacksonville have had an unceasing battle to secure their district for their kids,” he said Friday morning. He said a thriving school district would help bring economic growth and prosperity to the Jacksonville area.

“I think I can be helpful in the phase of foundation work to help in this startup,” he said. “It’s a real challenge.”

“We’re going to make it work,” Wood said. In size and racial composition, he says the Jacksonville-North Pulaski school district is like Searcy, where he lives and where he served as superintendent for 18 years.


“This will probably be my last job,” the 64-year-old educator said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson replaced Wood late last month with Johnny Key. Wood dropped back to deputy commissioner.

He said he’d be careful not to participate in Education Department actions involving Jacksonville-North Pulaski, noting that would be a conflict of interest.

His involvement will be minor in Jacksonville until his July 1 start, Wood said, but acting Superintendent Bobby Lester joked they’d “meet after dark” to smooth the transition.

“I’m mighty proud,” Lester said Friday morning. “Two well-qualified applicants.”

“I have a huge history with Bobby Lester,” Wood said. “We used to call him ‘Bobcat.’”

When Lester was PCSSD superintendent, Wood was deputy superintendent at Little Rock, Wood said.


The board had specified it wanted a superintendent with knowledge of state education law, the history — especially recent history — of JNP and PCSSD and the desegregation agreement, and knowledge about school finance, facilities and construction.

“I’ve got a lot of background in all aspects in the financial intricacies,” Wood added. “In my 18 years at Searcy, we did a tremendous amount of construction and renovation.”

Wood said Lester coming back to help guide the new district for the first few months was an important step.

“You couldn’t have a more dedicated, sincere person,” he said. “And Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart — she is so talented. I worked closely with Phyllis as the state Board of Education chief of staff.”


PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess said, “Tony’s a great choice. He’s had an uninterrupted run. He’s been involved in education his whole career.”

Wood said retention and attraction of personnel to meet the needs of our children was important.

“We’ve got to have the right and committed people in the classrooms to reach out and build relationships with the kids,” Wood said.

“There are some strong personnel doing good work everyday,” he said.

“It’s going to be a challenge. It’s likely to be the most interesting place I’ve worked.”

Wood said he hadn’t signed a contract yet, but “I’ve given my word.”

As the acting school board for JNP — the result of the state takeover of PCSSD in 2011 — Wood was involved in many decisions concerning the new district.

For instance, he helped decide how to pick the current, interim school board, which involved input from a variety of community leaders.

“I’ve been involved in working on how does the detachment proceed. This is the very first time we’ve had a separation in Arkansas — a number of consolidations, but this is the first separation,” Wood said.

Wood’s wife of 44 years, Ann, told him “I’m really glad you’re going to Jacksonville.”

In his resume, he notes a “deep appreciation of and allegiance to public education.


He cited “a proven record of leadership, a team builder experienced in scaling up organizations and the capacity to enforce accountability and cultivate a results-oriented culture.”

He worked as a teacher in the Beedeville School District and at Judsonia; deputy superintendent at Kensett School District; deputy superintendent at Little Rock, deputy commissioner of the state Education Department for four years and commissioner for one year.

Wood, born and raised in Columbus, Miss., came to Arkansas in 1969 to attend Harding University, he said, where he graduated with bachelor of science degree, followed by a masters degree in education.

He earned his superintendent certification at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.