Board votes 3-2 to renew contracts for principals and others

The Grady County Board of Education met behind closed doors Tuesday night almost as long as they did in public.
Just after recognizing various students for academic excellence and officially dedicating the former post office building as the VanLandingham Center, the board retreated behind closed doors with Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis, incoming superintendent Lee M. Bailey, Finance Officer Dan Broome and Board Attorney Thomas L. Lehman.
For just over an hour the board met in closed session and once the meeting was reopened to the public Superintendent Pharis made the recommendation to rehire the current school principals, assistant principals, instructional coordinators and department directors along with additional personnel hiring, resignations and retirements.
Dr. Pharis’ recommendation included transferring Dr. Kermit Gilliard from Washington Middle School and Demetrius Cox from Whigham Elementary School to the central office as assistant superintendents. The superintendent made that recommendation on behalf of Bailey who takes office June 1.
Also included in the recommendation was the hiring of three replacements for coaching vacancies created by the recent departure of coaches Jeff Littleton, Brian Hill and Jason Whitaker, who have been hired to coach in the Decatur County Schools.
After a motion was made by Board member Teresa Gee Harris to approve the recommendations of the superintendent, Board Vice Chairman Scott Higginbotham voiced his opposition to the hiring of the coaches.
“This all comes down to the hiring of three coaches. I’m opposed to it and I’ll give you reasons why,” Higginbotham said.
The board vice chairman alleged interviews were conducted for the three positions even though the board had not authorized the filling of the now vacant positions.
He also questioned the reasoning behind having as many as 20 students per teacher in academic classes and as few as 16 for physical education classes.
Higginbotham then began quoting statistics concerning the ranking of Cairo High School and he noted the high school’s graduation rate is 73 percent.
The board vice chair also took issue with the fact that only one candidate was interviewed for a math teaching position and one for a science teaching position while 14 were interviewed for coaching positions.
“I support everyone on the list 100 percent except for the football coaches. I’m here to support education and not P.E. and football at whatever cost. I assume the cost will be the education of our children,” Higginbotham said.
He said after the vote he would support the majority of the board and would support those hired “to the best of my ability.”
Board member Allen Jenkins echoed Higginbotham’s claims and said that when he was running for election to the board the residents of his district and others in the community stressed “academics, academics, academics.”
“I do not support having 16 kids in P.E. and academic classes having lots more in there. The rest of the list I support completely,” Jenkins said.
Board member Jeff Worsham then weighed in and offered his observations on the superintendent’s recommendations.
“I’ve had numerous phone calls concerning the hiring of football coaches. My concern is not so much the filling of the positions of those we’re losing. My concern is for the teachers who have seen their supplements cut in the past. I feel like we can, and it will be my goal to work to reinstate the teaching supplements. I know we can’t do it all, but we need to do what we can. I support the administrators, teachers and I support my colleagues on the board. Tonight we disagree. We’ve been referred to as the three amigos. Tonight I’m not an amigo. I support the recommendation but I also support coming back and trying to get teachers some of their supplements brought back,” Worsham said.
He also urged the board to vote unanimously on the superintendent’s recommendation.
“It’s time for this board to get on the same page and come together for the community. We need to build trust with the community and the only way we can is to start tonight. I urge both of you to let’s be unanimous,” Worsham said.
However, Higginbotham and Jenkins stood together and voted against the recommendation while Chairman Drew Pyrz joined Worsham and Harris in voting for approval and the motion passed 3-2.
Board member Harris then said she congratulated the vice chairman on his research on Cairo High School. “I only wish you had been as interested and as thorough in your data and statistics when we conducted the superintendent search,” she said.
Superintendent Pharis did not challenge the allegations made by Higginbotham and Jenkins during the meeting, but in an interview following the meeting he pointed out that physical education courses are electives and would have lower student/teacher ratios than required academic courses that all high school students must enroll in.
Dr. Pharis also noted that the math and science positions were advertised in the same manner as the coaching replacements and the system received applications from only one qualified science teacher and two math instructors.
In addition to the administrative recommendations, the board:
•Accepted the recommendation to hire: Douglas Huff, ISS teacher at Cairo High School; Thomas Balcom, Health/PE at CHS; Matthew Martin, Strength Coach at CHS; David Bell, math teacher at CHS; Brandon Joiner, science teacher at CHS; LeighAnn Tillman, special ed teacher; Casey Petruszak, teacher at Shiver; Jonathan Tarin, teacher at Shiver; Natalie Harrison, teacher at Whigham; Yvette Morrell, special ed teacher; Karen Layton, teacher at Eastside; and Heather Huff, EIP rotation teacher.
•Accepted retirements of: Carlton Gainous, assistant principal at CHS; Faye Mitchell, school food service at CHS; Mary Deyounks, school food service; Fannie Taylor, school counselor at Washington Middle School; and Marilyn Wisehart, special ed teacher at WMS.
•Accepted the resignations of: Elizabeth Hill, teacher at Southside; Kimberly Fleck, special ed teacher; Brian Hill, teacher at CHS; Jason Whitaker, teacher at CHS; Kristi Littleton, teacher at CHS; Marian Topakian, school food service at CHS; Allison Ellingwood, school food service at Southside; Destiny Collins, parapro at Eastside; Lori Thomas, parapro at Southside; Jeanette Brown, custodian at Whigham; and Mildred Smith, parapro at Northside.
•Approved the transfer of: Pamela Folsom, from asst. manager at Northside to manager of school food service at Northside; Cathy Barrett, from manager at Northside to manager of school food service at CHS; and Marquelle Hopkins, from EIP rotation teacher to a teacher at Eastside.
•Approved the termination of Jennifer Stuart, parapro at WMS.

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