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School system has to replace top leaders
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Two top officials have announced they will leave the Newton County School System in June, but what do the retirement of Superintendent Gary Mathews and the resignation of Deputy Superintendent of Operations Dennis Carpenter mean for the Newton County School System?

Jim Puckett, with the Georgia School Boards Association, said that losing top administrators at the same time present challenges to a school system but also opportunities. Once a new superintendent is hired, he or she will have the opportunity to shape the administrative staff.

"The new superintendent may desire to move a current employee into the vacant central office position, may recommend someone with experience from outside the system be employed, or may reorganize the central office staff responsibilities among current staff and not fill the vacancy," Puckett said in an email Friday. "Of course, all this would be subject to approval of the board. To summarize, while losing someone with years of experience in a central office position might present challenges, having a top central office staff vacancy might allow some options that, in the long run, could strengthen the district."

Carpenter, who is leaving to take a superintendent position in Missouri, echoed those sentiments and said that although it's always a concern when there are top level administration changes, the vacancy of a top position could provide an opportunity for the incoming superintendent.

"I am confident that leaders in the operations division will ‘keep their shoulders to the wheel' in terms of those practices we have determined to be efficient and effective over the course of the last several years," Carpenter said in an email. "This could be an opportunity for the new superintendent to hire at least one of his/her top level executives. This could be attractive to a potential candidate. It is my opinion that no one person exiting a system is greater than the sum of its remaining parts. With that being said, I believe in allowing those under my leadership to take part in some of the most complex assignments and tasks within the organization each day. When this is the case, there is less of a negative impact on the organization's overall performance when anyone happens to exit."

Also the experience may be new for Newton County, other school districts have dealt with the challenges of losing more than one top official at the same time, Puckett said.

"It's not unknown for a system to have a couple of central office positions to come open at the same time. This has been especially true recently as a result of changes in the state retirement plan that made it financially advantageous for educators eligible for retirement to do so by Dec. 31, 2012. Several central office positions (and teaching positions also) across the state have become open as a result," Puckett said.

Most school board members declined to comment, saying they had not yet met to discuss their options, but school board member Shakila Henderson-Baker said she personally was not nervous about the vacancies given the existing talent in the system.

"I am not nervous about Dr. Matthews and Dr. Carpenter leaving because every department of NCSS is filled with competent individuals that are ‘masters' of their craft and this gives me comfort that we will have a smooth transition into this new administration. In my opinion, when you have the right people in place it's still easy to figure out the puzzle, even with one piece missing," Henderson-Baker said.

"I'm happy that Dr. Carpenter has the opportunity to further his career as a leader and a superintendent and I wish him well. Missouri is receiving an educator who has been recognized nationally as an emerging leader, and that speaks volumes of his ability to handle this new position," she continued. "As for Dr. Mathews, I am also excited for him and his family and wish him well in whatever retirement holds for him."

As far as moving forward with the superintendent search, Henderson-Baker said she wants public involvement.

"I want to keep the public, teachers and school staff involved. I would like to know more about what they would like in a superintendent and that is why I suggested having a stakeholder's survey at the last board meeting. I have had a number of community members as well as school system employees express their opinions and I appreciate that," she said.

The board has not met since Carpenter announced he was leaving and thus has not discussed what to do with that particular position, which was created in 2010 after the retirement of Deborah Robertson, who was at the time associate superintendent of administrative services. Carpenter was the associate superintendent of human resources, and the two jobs were merged.

When asked, Carpenter said his current duties are serving on the superintendent's executive leadership team and overseeing the budget, finance, human resources, capital projects, transportation, purchasing, plant services and school nutrition functions for the district. He also said the reason for combining the positions had to do with budgetary strains.

"The district was beginning to experience budgetary shortfalls and could effect a savings if I assumed responsibility for the administrative services functions; coupled with hiring a director of human resources that would report to me," Carpenter said.

Mathews could not be reached for comment as he was out sick. Board chairman Eddie Johnson said he didn't have any comment yet about whether Carpenter's position would be filled or advertised as currently structured.

"It's a matter to be resolved at our next meeting or soon thereafter," Johnson said.