Four apply to be director of schools

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Two local educators are among the first to submit applications in hopes of succeeding Schools Director Roy Dukes.

Dr. Larry Miller, interim assistant director, and Jackie Abernathy, a Marshall County teacher and administrator for 36 years, applied, along with Teresa Williams of Nashville and D. Scott Porter, of Illinois.

Miller and Abernathy were among those who filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against the Board of Education last year.

After the abbreviated day of school on Dec. 20, the Board of Education's Central Office is closed until Jan. 3. According to Central Office staff, mail will be allowed to accumulate in the post office box during the holiday. Then, when they come back to work, they will see how many more applications have been submitted for the director's job. The postmark deadline is Jan. 4. Board members plan to meet on Jan. 10 to select candidates they want to interview.

Williams is a 1979 graduate of the University of Tennessee Knoxville. She started her teaching career at Franklin Road Academy, a Nashville independent school, in 1985 and stayed there until 2004, when she became head of Springwood School in Lanett, Ala. for five years. After leaving that school, Williams and her spouse moved back to Nashville. In her cover letter, Williams writes that the move has allowed her to "remain close to family," but states her "get-by" jobs have left her "unfulfilled as an educational leader and innovator." Williams writes that the position in Marshall County "represents precisely the opportunity I seek" and calls it "tailor-made for my background and skill set."

Porter started his teaching career in 1994, the year he received his bachelor's degree from Eastern Illinois University. Since then he has obtained a Master of Science degree in educational administration and a Specialist degree in educational administration, both from EIU. By 2004, Porter had worked his way up to the position he holds today - superintendent of Bluford School, a K-8 elementary and middle school with just over 300 pupils. Porter admits his experience "has been in smaller districts," but says he has "received a wealth of 'on the job' experience in all aspects of school district administration."

Porter states he has family roots in Middle Tennessee, with family members still living in the area. He is active in the Calvary Free Will Baptist Church in Salem, Ill. and was named "Best of the Best School Administrator" by the Mt. Vernon Register-News in 2011.

Abernathy is a graduate of Marshall County High School, and received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Middle Tennessee State University. Generations of Lewisburg students know her. She started as librarian at Connelly Middle School in 1974, moved on to Hardison, McCord, and Marshall Elementary, and returned to Connelly to teach 8th grade English in 1986. From 1993-96 Abernathy directed the Alternative School. After that she moved to Central Office to become personnel director for four years, and attendance supervisor and license and policy coordinator for another six years. In 2006 she officially retired, but continued to work a 120-day contract as attendance supervisor. This brought her into direct conflict with current director of schools Roy Dukes in May 2010, when, according to a claim filed with the EEOC, Dukes first assured Abernathy she would retain her job, then eliminated it from the budget.

"Soon after, my former position was made into a full-time position at a much greater cost which makes the 'abolished position for budget reasons' untruth," wrote Abernathy in her complaint to the EEOC. "I was not given the opportunity to apply as a full-time employee," she continued. "The individual who filled the position was an African American female with no experience."

Abernathy claimed she was discriminated against on the grounds of race, age, and disability.

Miller also filed an EEOC complaint in 2010, claiming discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, and age. In his complaint, Miller wrote that he applied for the director of schools job after Stan Curtis was dismissed, but Dukes was appointed by members of the school board, who did not interview anyone. Miller subsequently applied twice to be assistant director of schools. The first time, Dukes chose two women to share the job, and the second time, he chose Cornersville High School math teacher Ken Lee, "a younger male with no administrative experience," according to Miller's complaint. Lee has not been able to start his new job. He was sent overseas with his National Guard unit. Miller was called to Central Office to act as assistant director.

Miller started teaching in 1971, the year he graduated from Stetson University in Florida. He continued his education simultaneously with his teaching career, receiving an Ed.D. in educational administration from the University of Tennessee in 1989. He was a principal in Jefferson County schools in the 1980s and principal and vocational director in the Humboldt City schools in the early 1990s. Miller was also superintendent of the Oneida Special School District from 1987-91. Since arriving in Marshall County he has served as an assistant principal, coach, teacher, and, most recently, principal of Forrest School.