In a called meeting Tuesday, the Phenix City Board of Education hired an elementary curriculum director without disclosing the person's name until after the vote.
After the meeting, Wilkes provided the Ledger-Enquirer with the hired person's name, Donna Ash, and some background information. She most recently was an education and intervention specialist in Crenshaw County, where Wilkes was superintendent until the Phenix City board hired him last summer.
"I personally worked with her," Wilkes said. "Her depth of understanding of the curriculum is terribly extraordinary and significant, understanding the state assessment, the ASPIRE, understanding the depth of knowledge of each one of those test question items and understanding what the standards mean and implementing the new math programs. She did that for me three years ago, and I've seen her do it before. I've seen her go into schools that were in School Improvement and move them out."
Ash has been a curriculum consultant in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. She participated in the Mobile Maysville Mathematics Initiative, which helps teachers learn student-centered methods to better understand math. She used the MMMI to help reform the Mobile County Public School System.
During her time in Crenshaw, according to Wilkes, she helped the school system achieve its highest test scores, make Adequate Yearly Progress, meet all 123 goals and attain the highest graduation rate of any county school system in Alabama. She has made state-level presentations as a member of the Alabama Association of Curriculum and Development and helped the Alabama State Department of Education develop the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Tests, the state's former standardized exams for grades 3-8.
Ash was the Teacher of the Year in two schools, Craighead Elementary in Mobile County and Greenville Elementary in Butler County. She and her husband, Leonard Ash, have two children, Leonard Jr., 15, and David, 9.
Ash replaces Lisa Coleman, who directed federal programs and secondary curriculum for Phenix City Public Schools until she left three months ago to become assistant superintendent for the military school district that includes Fort Benning.
The L-E asked Wilkes in April about his plan to replace Coleman.
"We're probably going to do that internally for the time being and see how it goes," he said then. "I've done federal programs for years, so I can do that, and we'll take the secondary curriculum and spread it out."
Long-term, Wilkes said then, the vacancy might not be filled at all.
"We're having personnel meetings all this month," he said then. "We're shifting things and people and trying to be good stewards of what we have."
Coleman's salary was $90,584. Ash's salary will be $80,749, Wilkes said in a follow-up email Tuesday to the L-E.
Since then, Darrell Seldon, whose salary is $90,673, had been directing curriculum and instruction for all of Phenix City's system and Wilkes, whose salary is $145,000, had been helping with federal programs. Now, Ash will direct curriculum for grades K-7 and Seldom will cover grades 8-12, Wilkes said.
During the meeting, these details weren't mentioned, but board members did ask several questions after Wilkes recommended hiring "a certified employee" without publicly disclosing the name.
Board member Paul Stamp said he thought Wilkes was trying to consolidate the position. The superintendent said he tried but the work load wasn't sustainable.
Board member Mesha Patrick asked, "Could you tell us a little about this person?"
"Yes, ma'am," Wilkes said and referred board members to the electronic documents available to them on their computer tablets but not to the public.
"This person served both as a curriculum consultant and an intervention specialist," Wilkes said. "You can see there where this person began their teaching career and from that point forward became a curriculum coach, worked with the state Department of Education and began to work with the curriculum. You see some of the accomplishments in that second paragraph and certainly in the third paragraph."
Board member Fran Ellis asked why the undisclosed candidate "moved around quite a bit."
"Family sickness, mom and dad," Wilkes said.
Ellis also asked about the undisclosed candidate's husband.
"Auto supplier," Wilkes said, "which bodes well for moving into this area because there are opportunities."
Board member Zara Parham asked, "Is this individual available today for us to meet?"
"No, ma'am," Wilkes said. "Not today."
Patrick asked the final question: "Could we not have found someone within the district to fill this position?"
"We simply recommended the best qualified person for this position," Wilkes said.
The vote was 6-1. Board president Brad Baker, vice president Kelvin Redd and members Rick Carpenter, Ellis, Parham and Stamp approved the recommendation. Patrick opposed it.
Wilkes told the L-E that four interviews were conducted, including at least one local candidate.
"They all were outstanding applicants," he said.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.