Muscogee school board approves region chiefs, pre-K consolidation

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comApril 21, 2014 

The Muscogee County School District administration building is at 2960 Macon Road.


The Muscogee County School Board on Monday night unanimously approved superintendent David Lewis' recommendation to appoint three educators as the district's regional chiefs.

Two of them are internal promotions; the other is from across the state:

• Northside High School principal James Wilson

• Elementary education director Terry Baker

• T.W. Josey Comprehensive High School of Augusta principal Ronald Wiggins.

The board also unanimously approved Lewis' proposal to consolidate the district's 30 pre-kindergarten sites into nine Early Success Centers.

Wilson's 28-year education career includes the past 13 years in MCSD. After teaching at Columbus and Shaw high schools, he became assistant principal at Spencer High, principal at Midland Middle and then principal at Northside High since August 2007.

Baker has worked in MCSD for 27 years, including as elementary education director since January 2013. He also has been a teacher at Forrest Road Elementary, assistant principal at Britt David Elementary and principal at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary.

Wiggins has been an educator for 22 years, including the past six as Josey High principal. He also has been an English/language arts teacher and an assistant principal at Hephzibah High School and principal of Sego Middle School.

Lewis, whom the board hired in July from Polk County, Fla., is reorganizing the district's central office. He divided the district into three regions - west, central and east - to combat the real and perceived disparities between north and south Columbus. He also is assigning central administrators to each of the regions so the school-based personnel receive more attention.

All of which won't cost more money, Lewis said.

"I promised the district we would do this in a cost-neutral fashion," he said, "and we're still on point for doing so."

There were 39 applicants for the three regional chief positions and eight interviewed, including four internal candidates, Lewis said.

Among his selection criteria, he said, were evidence of effective educational leadership, diversity in demographics and experience, and a mixture of district knowledge and new ideas.

"We have high expectations for our district," Lewis said, "and the three people we've selected we feel like they have those experiences, not that any of the others I interviewed could not have fulfilled one of these roles. I want to be very clear about that. But it was important to find a unique combination of being able to work collaboratively together to allow them to have a sense of healthy competition between the regions, balanced with collaboration that brings in all the different factors and components.

"It is not going to be a hammer and nail," he continued. "It's going to be a coaching and mentoring and collaborative approach to motivating and moving our schools forward. That is my expectation, that we will move all schools."

Lewis listed some of the outstanding qualifications for each of the three region chiefs.

Northside has been an AP honor school under Wilson's leadership for the past five years. Other than the district's total magnet high school, Columbus High, Northside is the only other high school in the district that made Adequate Yearly Progress every year, despite absorbing transfer students from schools on the Needs Improvement list. Northside's test scores have improved on the End of Course Tests the past six years in every area. While principal at Midland Middle, Wilson's school achieved AYP every year, also despite absorbing transfer students from Needs Improvement schools.

Baker led MLK out of Needs Improvement in his first year after it had failed to make AYP the previous six years, and the school remained off the list during his entire 10-year tenure.

Wiggins led Josey High to a 37-point gain in graduation rate, 22-point gain in special education graduation and double-digit gains on SAT and all graduation tests, decreased chronically absent students from 219 to 96, expanded dual enrollment partnerships with Augusta Technical College and Paine College, and established a STEM program. He also led his middle school out of Needs Improvement and into AYP.

No board members questioned Lewis' choices during the meeting. District 4 representative Naomi Bucker praised Lewis for explaining his decisions. She often hears folks ask why certain personnel moves were made, she said, and she wonders why as well.

"I thought it was important that you explained that to the public," Buckner said. "It was very transparent."

After the meeting, the Ledger-Enquirer asked Lewis why a woman isn't among his three regional chiefs, noting that he said he wanted his hires to reflect the district's diversity.

"None of the women that applied had all of the other factors I was looking for," Lewis said. "While I would have liked to have had a female, it was more important for me to get all the different things that were important. I just didn't have that box checked off. If we had four (region chiefs), I could have probably gotten one."

Pre-K consolidation

The district's 50 pre-K classes comprise approximately 1,100 students. Those numbers are expected to remain the same even under consolidation.

The academic benefits of the Early Success Centers officials have mentioned include more opportunities for pre-K teachers to receive professional development, mentoring and coaching, and collaborate on planning lessons and analyzing data. Consolidation also will allow administrators to visit classrooms more often for teacher evaluation and better monitor implementation of the state's new pre-K curriculum.

The consolidation will combine 10 pre-K sites into three schools in each of the district's three regions. This will shift pre-K students into schools that are under capacity or already experiencing growth. So the district's pre-K system will look like this:

West Region

• Allen, North Columbus and River Road will merge into Double Churches.

• Hannan, Johnson and Thirtieth Avenue will merge into Fox.

• Downtown and Wynnton will merge into Davis.

Central Region

• Blanchard will merge into Eagle Ridge.

• Brewer, Clubview and Gentian will merge into Rigdon Road.

• Cusseta Road, Key, Martin Luther King Jr. and Muscogee will merge into South Columbus. Cusseta and Muscogee elementary schools are closing at the end of this school year and will form Dorothy Height Elementary, which is under construction.

East Region

• Midland will merge into Mathews.

• Reese Road, Waddell and Wesley Heights will merge into Forrest Road.

• Dawson, Dimon, Georgetown and St. Marys Road will merge into Lonnie Jackson.

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