Warren makes plans for changes at the top

VINCENT – The Warren Local Board of Education on Wednesday elected to move forward as if Superintendent Tom Gibbs is leaving, voting to post the job and establishing a timeline to fill the position.

Gibbs has been in discussions with the Athens City school district about an administrative position there, but no formal offer has been made. At a special board meeting Wednesday in the district administration office, district residents and employees urged the board to take swift action to not only replace Gibbs but also try to stop other administrators from leaving.

“I am concerned that we are running out of time,” said Annette VanPelt, secretary in the Warren High School office and athletic department. “My worry is that we can’t get someone here that we need.”

After a more than two-hour executive session, the board voted 5-0 to post the job today and accept resumes until 4 p.m. Tuesday May 28.

“You can start that search and not have a letter of resignation, but you can’t act on it until you’ve got it,” board President Sidney Brackenridge said.

Gibbs, who was not present Wednesday, has said the board will know his intentions by their next regular meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 20. Brackenridge said that while no action has been taken, he and other board members expect Gibbs to be approved for a job with Athens at that district’s next board meeting, which is on May 16.

Gibbs is also superintendent of the Fort Frye Local school district, whose board has scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. today at Beverly-Center Elementary School to discuss the matter.

If Gibbs does resign, the Warren board plans to meet May 30 to review resumes, then conduct interviews on June 3. A final round of interviews, with participation from community members, would take place June 8, with a vote on hiring expected the week of June 10.

Brackenridge said the last time the district conducted a superintendent search, it took more than three months. But there was an interim superintendent during that time.

“There’s no reason we can’t shorten the time frame,” Brackenridge said.

One reason for that is the concern over the need to hire replacements for other district administrators.

The employees speaking at Wednesday’s meeting were reluctant to name the principals who might be leaving. Afterward though, Barlow-Vincent Elementary fourth-grade teacher and district resident Chris VanNoy said “there are multiple principals looking.” Warren employs 4 principals and 2 assistant principals.

Brackenridge said no letters of resignation have been submitted and declined to identify who could be leaving.

“Nobody’s officially resigned, but there are a lot of rumors going around,” he said.

VanNoy told the board the district could lose good administrators and that could lead to the loss of good teachers.

“I believe we have administrators now that have a drive to make our district the best it is,” she said.

Brackenridge said having strong administrators can lead to the situation the district is facing.

“If you’ve got good people, people come looking for them,” he said.

Brackenridge added that he was hesitant to stand in the way of someone who sees an opportunity to improve their situation. Some of the district employees present agreed but said they thought a show of support from the board could make some of the administrators reconsider.

“I’ve met with them and all they’re saying is ‘we don’t feel the board is behind us,’ and that is what we will have to discuss in the executive session,” board member Bob Crum said.

Employees suggested workload as a major factor, pointing to the new, state-mandated teacher evaluation system that will be much more time-consuming than the current approach, even for schools with a principal and assistant principal. They also mentioned the responsibilities of athletic director falling on administrators and other employees at the high school.

“I know we lost the athletic director full-time because of money,” VanPelt said. “But those responsibilities moved on to other people.”

She pointed to Warren High School Principal Dan Leffingwell as one of those individuals and said the extra duties could be a deterrent for a potential principal.

Leffingwell, contacted by phone, declined to comment on whether he was among those considering leaving. Other principals in the district could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Board member Bob Allen said he agrees a full-time athletic director is needed at the high school and he believed there was someone who could do the job without costs increasing significantly from the current setup.

Some of those present asked if the board was looking at internal candidates for the superintendent job.

“To my knowledge, we’re not looking,” Allen said. “I think we want the very best candidate and I’d hate to see us restrict or limit (our options).”

Asked whether there was any buyout or penalty in the superintendent’s contract for leaving before it was up, Allen said there was not but he would like to see that changed if another superintendent is hired.

“I think if you sign a contract, you should honor that contract,” he said.

Gibbs agreed to five-year contracts earlier this year with both Warren and Fort Frye to continue as superintendent for both, as he’s been since May 2012. Allen also noted that two other administrators in the district had five-year contracts and were considering leaving before they were up.

Another provision Allen said he would like to see in the next superintendent’s contract is a requirement that he or she live in the district. Gibbs is a resident of Athens County.

Board member John Nichols said many districts don’t require that so they don’t limit the field of potential candidates but he would have no reservations about doing so.