Pell City BOE interviews last 2 candidates
by David Atchison
PELL CITY – Board of Education members interviewed the final two superintendent candidates Tuesday night.

“This is a very important decision for our school system,” said Board Chairwoman Tammie Williams.

She said the board could discuss the matter of filling the superintendent position at next Tuesday night’s regular board meeting.

The interviews were taped, so other board members who were unable to attend the interviews could review the interviews of each candidate.

“At this time we haven’t made any conclusive plans,” said board member Cecil Fomby, when asked what may be next with the superintendent search. “We have two board members who haven’t even heard all the interviews.”

Board member Jeff Jones was sick and unable to attend the interviews held at the board office on Monday and Tuesday night. Board member Laurie Henderson had an unexpected emergency and was unable to attend Tuesday night’s interviews.

Tuesday, the board interviewed James Hethcox of Sylacauga, who is the founder and senior consultant of Educare Inc., which focuses on economic and workforce development issues that impact postsecondary institutions.

Hethcox told the board he has worked in just about every conceivable educational environment, from K-12 through graduate and professional schools. He has even taught state inmates.

Hethcox, who holds a law degree from the Birmingham School of Law, once worked for the Auburn University Athletic Department for former Head Football Coach Pat Dye, making sure student athletes remained academically eligible for sports.

He told the School Board that in the past he normally was called to school systems with problems, but that’s not the case for the Pell City school system.

“What you have here is so different from what I am used to,” he said. “This system could run on automatic without the wheels falling off…This system is already excellent.”

Hethcox toured schools and met with some faculty members Tuesday afternoon prior to his interview with the board.

He said he is a non-traditional superintendent candidate who currently does not have a superintendent certification, but he brings his vast education experience to the position.

Hethcox said if hired he would attend the state’s superintendent orientation before actually taking the helm of the school system.

“I’m here for the children,” Hethcox said. “I’m here for the kids. That’s what it is all about.”

Hethcox said he sets high personal standards and expects high professional standards for those who work for him. Hethcox said he would involve all stakeholders or anyone who has a vested interest in the school system with any long-term plans.

“Where a school system falls short is the follow-up,” he said. “The follow-up is the key; otherwise you have a plan on a shelf collecting dust.”

Hethcox was very complimentary of the school system, pointing out programs the system currently has in place, like the mentoring program, and the fact that the school system actively recruits college graduates.

He was also complimentary of Assistant Superintendent Michael Barber, who also applied for the superintendent’s position.

Hethcox said if he was hired as the new superintendent, he would want Barber to stay.

“He is invaluable to the future of this school system,” Hethcox said.

Barber was the final candidate interviewed by the School Board Tuesday night.

Barber told the board that the school system, one which he graduated from, is special to him.

His grandfather only made it to the third-grade in the local schools before he was forced to work in the cotton mills so their family could survive.

Two generations later, Barber said he has earned a doctorate’s degree and is applying for the top job in the school system.

He said applying for the superintendent’s job was personal to him.

“I want to be the best,” Barber told the board.

Barber was candid with the board he has addressed on many occasions as the assistant superintendent of schools.

“I am what I am,” he said.

Barber said most school curriculums are outlined by the Alabama Department of Education, but the school system implements and monitors those state curriculums.

He said there are curriculums developed locally to help meet local needs for skilled technical jobs for local industries.

He said his own daughter benefited from a locally developed curriculum, the dual enrollment LPN program through Jefferson State Community College and is continuing her college education today.

Barber was also instrumental in the development of a long-range strategic plan for the school system, but he said it took many people from inside and outside the school system to develop the plan.

“You don’t plan, you don’t get where you are going,” he said.

Barber said he has worked with the school system through three years of proration, which accounted for more than $5 million in state funding cuts.

He told the board that Superintendent Bobby Hathcock taught him the importance of getting out into the schools. Barber said it was a way of staying informed of what is happening in the schools.

“We don’t want people to think something is wrong when we show up,” he said. “We enjoy it and the camaraderie.”

Barber said he has the ultimate accountability in a small community where people know each other, when answering questions on the phone, or at his church or in a store or when reporting to the board – he is accountable to all stakeholders for what happens in the school system.

Barber told the board he has a plan for almost everything, including his life, as well as for the school system.

“You lead from the front,” Barber said. “But you can’t lead if you don’t know where you are going.”

Barber has worked in education for 24 years. He started his teaching career as a fourth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School and then Stemley Elementary School.

Barber was promoted to assistant principal at Drew Middle School in the Talladega County School System, before becoming principal in 1997 at Iola Roberts Elementary School in Pell City.

He was promoted to assistant superintendent of the Pell City school system in 2001 and has held that position ever since.

Barber is also the pastor of Mount Zion Freewill Baptist Church in Pell City. He served as the associate pastor for the church for about 10 years before becoming the church’s pastor in 2007.

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© 2013