Tuesday, May 05, 2015

TOP STORY >> City welcomes new school chief

Leader senior staff writer

“We’ve got a lot of good things on the horizon,” Jacksonville-North Pulaski Superintendent-select Tony Wood told those at a small reception in his honor Monday evening before the monthly school board meeting.

“We were blessed to have a legend as our first interim superintendent (Bobby Lester) and now we have another legend, Mr. Tony Wood, as superintendent,” said Daniel Gray, president of the JNP school board. “As it said in the local paper, we hire all-stars.”

Among the approximately 40 invited guests at the reception were local officials, principals, chamber of commerce officials, Little Rock Air Force Base representatives, the fire chief and police chief and five of the seven school board members.

“My first impression is the hospitality,” Wood said. “Everyone has been so kind. It takes that kind of support for us to be successful.

“I told each of the principals I met this afternoon how important they are. The only person who is more important is that individual teacher who’s making a difference in the classroom.”

Wood recognized the decades of effort by Jacksonville residents in the movement to form their own school district — “to make sure your children can have the opportunities you want them to have.”

Wood said that was a major factor in his choosing to apply for and accept the job as the district’s first school-running superintendent.

“It’s clear — you validated it when you went to the ballot boxes. Has there ever been an election that reflected the percentage of support that this community brought forth in what you wanted for your kids?”

Jacksonville-area residents last year approved the creation of the new school district with 95 percent of the vote.

Wood, a Searcy-area resident, said that, for now at least, he would not be moving to Jacksonville, but that he would nonetheless be of the community in regard to participation and community events.

In a brief interview, Lester said that Wood submitted his job application the day before the deadline, but that he would be glad to hand over the reins to Wood at the end of his contract, June 30.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson re-placed Wood, the former state Education Commissioner, on March 25. As deputy commissioner, he is no longer involved in decision-making regarding PCSSD and JNPSD, so he’s free to work with Lester and Gray until he starts full time.

Because the state took over PCSSD in 2011 and dissolved the school board, the education commissioner has been a one-man board for PCSSD and, by default, for JNPSD.

He has worked previously with “Bobcat Lester,” and with Chief of Staff Phyllis Stewart, and said, “I hope I can do what they’ve done in terms of being a service to the community.”

Later, at the school board meeting, Wood was introduced to the audience, as were Charles Stein, current director of the state transportation and facilities partnership program, who retires this summer and will help JNP navigate the tricky waters of that program.

Jacksonville is expected to be eligible for about 55 percent matching money from the state for approved facilities construction or remodeling, but won’t be eligible to receive funds until 2017-18.

Also acknowledged were the district’s attorneys, Patrick Wilson and Scott Richardson.

The board recognized the achievements of three students and one team of students.

Caleb Brackett, a Dupree Elementary School student, was recognized as state champion and eighth nationally in an essay contest about successful investing.

He will compete in the regionals and faced off against 684 other entrants.

Jonah Rodgers, president of the Jacksonville High School student council, was recognized for a slew of academic achievements.

John Herman, another high-achieving Jacksonville High School student, was accepted to West Point Academy for engineering training. Earlier, he was accepted into the Air Force Academy.

The Jacksonville High School Automotive Team, which tore down and rebuilt an engine in 35 minutes, qualified for the National High School Automotive competition.

Lester reported that he and the board are investigating membership in the Wilbur D. Mills Educational Cooperative.

He also said plans were being made for the North Pulaski High School and Jacksonville High School bands to practice and perform together as one unit, much as the football teams will do beginning in the fall.