By MARINA WATERS
It was two years ago that Washington County, for the first time ever, named a woman, Kimber Halliburton, as director of schools. But now, Halliburton has been named the superintendent of the Madison County School District in Mississippi as of Wednesday, May 23 — the day she signed her letter of resignation in Washington County.
“While this musing has not come easy, an exciting challenge has presented itself to me to serve as a superintendent in a new community,” Halliburton said in her letter of resignation to the Washington County Board of Education. “I have made the tough decision to leave Washington County to pursue this new challenge in my career.”
Halliburton took over as director in July of 2016 after Ron Dykes retired from the position in late June of 2016. In her letter of resignation, Halliburton cited the district’s accomplishments such as the increased graduation percentage, the county’s “Exemplary School District” nod from the state, and a top score for growth according to the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores, among other accomplishments.
However, her resignation, which is slated to be accepted at the Wednesday, May 30, called school board meeting, might not have changed the divisiveness of the board, which has widely been divided in 5-4 votes throughout numerous discussions this year on topics such as the BOE’s hired attorney and the Jonesborough School project design plans.
For some board members, her departure leaves a mark of progress areas such as technology and professional development.
“To tell you the truth, she did a pretty daggum good job,” school board member Clarence Mabe said. “Our grades are up, she brought a lot of stuff to the classroom like the microphones so the teachers wouldn’t have to speak so loud. She brought the coaches for the teachers to help them with the technology and so forth. But their aim was to get rid of her.”
In light of the divisiveness, Mabe also said the way in which multiple board members operated leading up to the resignation, he feels, is a concern.
“I’m not upset with firing a superintendent or hiring one. That is normal. You will hire a superintendent and fire them,” Mabe said. “I am upset with the five members of the board who went off on their own to talk to the lawyer and plan all this out of who they’re going to put in there. If you ask them, they say, ‘Oh no, we don’t know what’s going on.’ But how did those five members all call the lawyer at the same time with the same request? Is that the sunshine law being broken?”
When asked if and what issues board members had with the director, school board member David Hammond said he felt that management styles differed between the director and some board members.
“I can’t speak for the whole board,’ Hammond said, “but just management styles, management techniques (were the issues the board had with Halliburton), and listening to people in the community. It was more of a respect thing. Those were the differences — and backing the board after a decision was made and getting behind that decision.
“I wish her well and I think it’s a positive move for her and our system.”
Following the resignation, the board will now look to fill the position — but when?
Hammond said, in light of the upcoming August election for seats in District 1 and District 3, he feels there will be no rush to select the next director of schools.
“I’m running for election and I know I may not win, especially with redistricting being the way it is, but we know for a fact three new board members are coming on and I think it would be irresponsible for us to try to place a director,” Hammond said. “It’s such a lengthy process, it wouldn’t be accomplished properly and in the right way.”
Though the role of the director has seen its share of recent controversy with the ongoing Jonesborough School project debacle as well as bus accidents throughout the past couple of years, Hammond said he felt the position is one that has not earned a negative reputation.
“No, I think the average length of a director staying in any one place is six to seven years,” Hammond said. “Any time there’s a breakdown in communication, it’s not just one person or one side. It’s two sided.
“People are going to look at our county and the people we have. We have a good system. We’ve seen good works.”
Before the BOE fills the position, the school board will also name an interim director of schools at the next called meeting. Though Mabe said he felt the majority of board members have decided who they would like to see as the interim, Hammond said that has not been discussed.
“We have a couple of board members stating that we already know who the director’s going to be. And that’s not so,” Hammond said. “I’ve thought personally of a few people. I’m sure it will be someone within our system I would think.
“I also read that it’s been said that we’ve already got it figured out who we’re going to put in place as principals and assistant principals. We don’t place the principals and assistant principals. The director does that. There’s been no mention of that whatsoever.”
Mabe said he feels that in the board’s upcoming interim decision, moving on for the sake of the school board’s future decisions is necessary.
“The five have that got the lawyer will pick the new director,” Mabe said. “I’m going to back whoever they pick because we have got to move forward. There are important decisions we’ve got to pick. Let’s just go forward.”
The BOE will meet for a called meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Washington County Department of Education’s central office located at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.