The Thomaston-Upson Board of Education last night made perhaps the most important decision concerning education in our community which will be made in at least the next two years. They chose a principal for Upson-Lee High School. The school board, by a 5-1 vote, affirmed the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Howard Hendley and hired Cleve Hendrix for the position.
Hendrix is well thought of in our community and within our school system. He is clearly devoted to the students at the high school and will make an excellent principal.
What follows is not a criticism of Hendrix, who has our support and, we trust, the community's support. He has a big job ahead and he deserves and requires a community united behind him.
That said, there is still more to say.
Patsy Dean also applied for the position of high school principal. Of the two finalists, she was the only candidate with the experience of successfully leading a school and a teaching staff.
Since 1997, Dean has led the middle school and she has done so with unquestioned success. Test scores at the middle school are unrivaled by any other school in our system - and in some areas our middle school students are out-performing students in the highly acclaimed systems of Fayette and Henry counties.
Dean was the only finalist for the position of principal who has designed and implemented numerous successful academic initiatives with the only true measurable result - improved student performance. Her school improvement plan is a model for middle schools across the state.
Patsy Dean is a proven entity in school leadership. Her school is our system's star academic performer. She didn't find it that way. She took a school in chaos and turned it into an institution of which our community is proud.
In the interview process for the high school principal, Dean won the top marks from the majority of the School Council of Upson-Lee. Still, she failed to win Dr. Hendley's recommendation, although her experience in school leadership and proven successes were clearly unmatched.
Dr. Hendley's recommendation was no surprise. Choosing Dean for the job would have been controversial and Dr. Hendley has raised avoiding controversy to an art form.
Dean is a "do-er." Her standards are high and so are her demands of others. In the past several weeks, school board members have heard from some high school teachers opposing Dean for the principal job (some even resorted to a petition.) She would make them write lesson plans, they complained. She asks too much of teachers, they said. In some cases, students also called board members, complaining Dean was too strict.
We don't know if those calls swayed the decision of the school board or influenced the recommendation of the superintendent. However, those calls are indicative of a fact that it is widely known - Patsy Dean is a boat rocker, for the better.
While her experience and success made her the obvious choice for the high school principalship, her enthusiasm and courage in initiating positive change guaranteed a sometimes bumpy path toward success. Unfortunately, our school superintendent has, since coming to Upson County, defined himself as a permanent traveler on the path of least resistance. He told the school board last night Dean would upset the apple cart at the high school. Some of the teachers would be unhappy.
Patsy Dean was not rejected by the school board for the post of high school principal. No member of the board voted against her. The school board would have affirmed either candidate recommended by the school superintendent. Furthermore, three members of the school board told The Times Dean was their personal choice for the job - but said they would support the recommendation of the superintendent on the matter because Hendrix was also a good choice.
One board member said last night's choice means we still get a good leader at the high school without having to dismantle the middle school. That's a logical justification, but that logic is stunningly unfair to Dean. How long should doing a great job keep someone from advancing to another job?
In the weeks prior to the selection, and especially in the hours after the vote, there have been whispers of another victory for the "good ole boys" and making good on old job promises. However, it's over now and such talk will only undermine the new leadership at the high school.
Patsy Dean earned the job of high school principal by excelling as the middle school principal. We know she will continue to excel in that role, and so will the middle school teachers and students. Other opportunities are on the horizon for her.
Cleve Hendrix has also worked hard in his career and he has strengths which are suited to the high school principal position. He was recommended as principal by the superintendent and chosen by the school board. We now join those decision makers in support of Hendrix, and invite our community to do the same.