In naming one of Harrie Buecker’s assistants as her successor, the Franklin County Board of Education departed from its recent pattern of looking outside the system for new superintendents. Chrissy Jones, currently assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, will take charge when Buecker’s contract expires at the end of next month. Jones has been with the system since 2000 so she should be well aware of the travails of the present and previous superintendents, who ended up out of favor with the board.
It’s a shame things went awry for the outgoing leader, who won glowing marks in her early evaluations but fell from grace when the state Office of Education Accountability investigated anonymous complaints that she had violated regulations governing administrative conduct. OEA ordered her to undergo refresher courses after finding she had overstepped her authority in the hiring of former associates for positions in the central office. About a year ago, the school board granted her a one-year contract renewal (rather than the customary four years) pending outcome of an additional investigation. Although the subsequent OEA report was less condemnatory than the original one, the superintendent decided this year to call it quits upon expiration of her contract.
Her successor-designate, committed like Buecker to enhancing her academic credentials, is working on a doctoral degree but emphasizes her humble beginnings as a math teacher in Shelby County. She switched to administrative work after 10 years in the classroom and later came to Franklin County as principal of Western Hills High School.
Jones told The State Journal’s Katheran Wasson she aims to meet with every Franklin County teacher in her first year as superintendent; it’s a timely mending of fences. Justified or not, internal paranoia festered under Buecker; some even suspected she used a security camera to spy on subordinates.
The new superintendent also plans to reach out to the general public, realizing she will need support from the wider community as well as school system insiders. Buecker’s supporters came to her defense when board criticism heated up.
It still comes back to the school board, without which the administrator’s PR campaign will be for naught. Chairwoman Michelle New praised the future superintendent following approval of the new contract, saying Jones has “incredible” knowledge of the district and a vision of where it should be going.
Sometimes board members can ask too much. Four years ago, Buecker found herself in the untenable position of promoting a 10 percent increase in school taxes which was proposed to offset cutbacks in state education funding. The board withdrew its proposal when petitions for a referendum started circulating, as provided by state law when growth in property tax revenue exceeds 4 percent. Jones says she’s “pretty conservative” on money matters and will review the school budget to make sure funds are being put to good use.
Her task is daunting. But if she can keep teachers, taxpayers and board members happy while boosting academic achievement, cutting dropouts and improving graduation rates, an outstanding tenure is within reach. We wish her luck.