Departure of Arlington superintendent may never be explained

Posted Saturday, Jun. 09, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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ARLINGTON -- Former Arlington school Superintendent Jerry McCullough's departure last week from the district he led for four years has created confusion among city leaders, residents and educators over why he stepped down so suddenly without any explanation from the board.

McCullough, who was paid $235,000 a year, will remain on the payroll until Jan. 14, according to a resignation and separation agreement approved by Arlington trustees Thursday. Deputy Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos was appointed interim leader.

Board President Peter Baron said there will be no further statement about what happened to cause an impasse between McCullough and the board. He repeated his contention that the situation is a personnel matter and not open to comment.

McCullough has declined repeated requests for comment on his departure.

Meanwhile, people who know him are reacting with concern and regret.

"Jerry and I have had a great relationship for many years," Mayor Robert Cluck said. "I have found him to be a very intelligent, aggressive person who wants nothing more than the best for AISD. I was very sorry to hear he was exiting AISD."

Cluck praised the district's joint projects with the city during McCullough's career.

"He has always understood the importance of partnerships," Cluck said. "I think he was very effective, but obviously others have different thoughts."

Newly elected Councilman Michael Glaspie, who served as a school board member during a significant amount of McCullough's 43 years in the district, said Friday that he has been "watching from afar."

"Actually I had a meeting yesterday morning with some people in the community and the question came up, 'What happened?,'" Glaspie said. "I'd heard rumors they hadn't really worked out a new contract for Jerry, and at this point you've got to wonder."

Secrecy agreement

The agreement between McCullough and the board may make it difficult to shed light on what happened.

It states that "the parties agree they will not discuss, publicize, email, issue a press release, post on the internet or otherwise communicate or disseminate any information concerning this agreement, except as required by law."

It also includes a release from any age discrimination claims under the Age Discrimination Employment Act. Under that law, a party has seven days after signing the agreement to revoke the waiver.

Glaspie doesn't discount a mutual agreement.

"With the length of time Jerry had given to the school district, maybe he just felt it was time to sit down a moment," Glaspie said.

The lack of a statement from either party is curious, he said.

"Especially when you take under consideration how quickly this came about, you wonder what's going on, what happened," Glaspie said.

But some suggest that the pressures of lower state funding, coupled with low employee morale and higher test-score expectations, may have contributed to McCullough's exit.

Differences of opinion on the district's new three-year Strategic Plan -- with a first-year cost of $4.1 million -- and high-profile public relations campaign -- which has a price tag of $100,000 and is renewable for two more years -- may have created more tension.

Lengthy search?

While the public is perplexed about what happened, the board doesn't appear to be in any hurry to find McCullough's replacement.

"We haven't spoken a lot on it," Baron said. "A superintendent search is not a short process. In our search for a superintendent, we will solicit community and employee input, as we do throughout the year for many issues, and use that input as we move to hire the best candidate possible for the AISD."

In the meantime, Baron said, the district is in good hands with Cavazos.

"We have great faith in Dr. Cavazos to keep the district moving forward," he said.

Cavazos joined the district in 1999 as an associate superintendent for instruction and served as interim deputy superintendent for seven months before being named deputy superintendent in February 2009.

He started his teaching career as an English teacher in the Mission Consolidated school district in 1990.

In 1992, he moved to McAllen, where he taught English and government. He was named the secondary language-arts supervisor for the Mercedes school district in 1993 and became associate adviser for San Benito Consolidated in 1995. Cavazos went to work for the Texas Education Agency's Department of School Finance and Support in 1998.

Cavazos holds bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Texas-Pan American and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.

He has previously served as a lecturer for the University of Texas at Arlington's department of educational leadership and policy studies.

The district has not disclosed any information on Cavazos' new contract.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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