New director of schools is selected

Friday, February 3, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

School board members voted overwhelmingly to make the local applicant who has spent her entire life in Marshall County their new director of schools.

Jackie Abernathy happily accepted the job, and hugs and congratulations from board members.

"Thank you," she said. "I will do my very best. I am very touched, and I appreciate it."

Terms of her contract will be discussed at the school board's monthly meeting on Feb. 9.

Board member Ann Tears tried to slow down the selection process, reading a prepared statement that was incorporated in the minutes of the meeting.

"If we're serious about changing, we should not rush in our decision," Tears said. She made a motion for board members to review all the applications and the essays again, as well as allow stakeholders to see them. Then she proposed reducing the field to two finalists at the February meeting.

Tears' motion died for lack of a second. Sam Smith's motion that all board members vote for their choice was successful, with Tears the only "no" vote.

Smith's motion was to enter into contract negotiations with any candidate who received five votes or, if no one got five, to re-interview the top two.

Board secretary Rhonda Poole called for the vote in district order, and everyone voted for Abernathy, except Tears, whose choice was William Royal. Curt Denton was absent, but with seven board members in favor of Abernathy, his vote would not have made any difference.

In the cover letter of her application, Abernathy states, "I would welcome the opportunity to work with you (board members), the principals, the parents, and the students to make Marshall County the best school system in Tennessee. I believe this can happen."

During her interview last Saturday, Abernathy said, "Let's move on and address our weaknesses. I know things can turn around. Our goals need to focus on learning, and more parent involvement."

One of her ideas was to revive the Partners in Education program, and another was to create student internships with businesses. Abernathy also suggested making a DVD of positive things about Marshall County schools for the Industrial Board to show businesses thinking of locating here.

Having been in the classroom for 19 years, Abernathy has definite ideas about how to improve teaching in the county. She promised not to ask teachers to do things without a purpose, and said teachers need to know they are "the foundation of our school system."

She intends to focus on grades K-3, putting the strongest teachers there, and working with teachers to develop curriculum guides, pacing guides, and common formative assessments to be given every four weeks.

"We'll use all available data to drive our instruction," Abernathy said, noting three schools are on the "target" list and calling this a "major concern."

In addition to her years of teaching, Abernathy has a wealth of administrative experience. She was the director of the alternative school for two years. From there, in 1996, Abernathy went to Central Office where she held a variety of jobs, including personnel director, attendance supervisor, license coordinator and policy coordinator. She told board members she had worked extensively with salaries and budgets, as well as personnel.

As far as convincing the county commission to find more money for the schools, Abernathy said, "We have to re-establish trust. If they see there's a great need, they'll work with us. Every child deserves a good education."