June 6, 2012

Arlington schools facing yet another superintendent search

Jerry McCullough is not expected back in any official capacity, a spokeswoman says.

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Tonight's Arlington school board meeting will answer some questions about the future of Superintendent Jerry McCullough while raising many others about why the district faces its third superintendent search in five years.

McCullough's contract is up in January. The agenda itself is an indication that the veteran educator is leaving: Votes are scheduled tonight on a contract agreement with him and on naming an interim superintendent.

He is, in fact, already gone. His parking space is empty in front of the administration building, and he was not at Tuesday's board workshop on the 2012-13 budget.

He is not expected back in any official capacity, according to a school spokeswoman.

The board is expected to name an interim superintendent tonight.

Interim choices

Deputy Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos, most likely the first in line if the board fills the interim superintendent slot from within, sat in with the trustees at the Tuesday budget meeting.

Some speculation has also centered on former Superintendent Mac Bernd as an interim choice. Bernd, who retired in 2008, still lives in Arlington and said Wednesday that he is enjoying "a dream life" of traveling and taking in specialty auto shows.

Bernd would not say whether he'd had any discussions with the board about an interim position.

"The appointment of an interim superintendent is strictly within the purview of the board of trustees," he said. "Therefore, I have no comment regarding this issue."

Test scores

The reasons for what seems to be McCullough's abrupt departure after a 43-year career in the district may be harder to discern.

Some educators say McCullough put undue pressure on principals and teachers to bring up test scores, while other observers believe that he may not have been on board with the district's new $4.1 million three-year strategic plan and its companion $100,000 public relations campaign.

Last month, the board approved a contract with BrandEra to collaborate with administrators and come up with a theme and supporting materials to tout the district's offerings and achievements. It will go hand in hand with the district's first-ever three-year strategic plan, which is in the organizational stage.

Dane Hartley, a former teacher in the district, who referred to McCullough as "a good guy," said the staff was initially excited when McCullough got the superintendent's job.

He said that he was at the convocation in 2009 when McCullough's appointment was announced and that the "assembled group of teachers gave him a standing ovation."

But then the central administration created an environment in which it was difficult to manage a campus while educating children, Hartley said.

"Nonsupport for strong discipline, absurd paperwork requirements and mind-numbing focus on getting students to a mediocre 70 percent passing standard (ratings) have handcuffed and frustrated principals," he wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram.

"If Arlington's school board members are serious about improving student education in Arlington, the board needs to examine underlying causes for massive turnover of AISD's most experienced leadership," Hartley said. "Some turnover in leadership is normal, but not mass exodus."

Karen Gilley, recently retired from the district after a 26-year career in education, echoed Hartley's comments.

"It was sad to see such a wonderful district being ruined because of all the stress," she wrote in an e-mail. "McCullough wanted a Recognized district. ... He ruled with fear, and the principals were under such stress about the scores that they in turn ruled with fear.

"My message to the board is: Don't hire the next superintendent just because he/she brought a district's scores up," Gilley wrote. "There is way more to great leadership than that."

Turnover 'normal'

While the district has lost 23 principals in the past two years, officials have said that some retired and others left because of spouse transfers, family situations, moves or even marriages.

"It's really normal. A lot of principals had been in the district a long time and are now taking retirements," district spokeswoman Amy Casas said.

After more than four decades with the district, including time as a teacher at Ferguson, Nichols and Shackelford junior high schools and Lamar High School, McCullough has his supporters.

"Coach McCullough is a great man," Clay Hopkins wrote on a website, alluding to McCullough's early career as a coach. "Thank you for all you have done for us!"

Becky Orander, executive director of the Arlington Life Shelter, commented about McCullough on the Arlington Citizen-Journal's site.

"I hate to see this," Orander wrote.

"Jerry has been a tremendous advocate for our community's homeless children."

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @startelegram

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