The Watson Chapel School Board voted 5-2 Monday night to hire former Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Jerry Guess as the one-year interim superintendent of the Watson Chapel School District.

At a previous meeting, the board interviewed Guess, Andrew Vining and Andrew Curry for a one-year interim superintendent position during an executive session, according to WCSD Board President Mack Milner.

Current WCSD Superintendent Connie Hathorn submitted a letter of resignation effective at the end of the current school year. In his letter, Hathorn wrote that “this has been a difficult personal decision for me to make because of the professional and personal satisfaction I have received while working on behalf of our students.”

Hathorn was hired July 1, 2015, on a contract that runs through June 30, 2018. He received an extension last year for an additional two years, which runs through 2020, and in February he received an additional year extension, which runs through 2021.

He said that when he first came back to Watson Chapel in July 2015, he immediately felt like a lifelong Wildcat.

“I committed myself deeply to this community and to our schools, and I felt that commitment in return,” Hathorn said. “Over the years, hundreds of parents, educators, and community members have prayed for, embraced and supported our work together to ensure all of our schools are worthy of our great community.”

Hathorn said that since he first came to WCSD, the district has witnessed an increase in their student achievement each year of his tenure. The high school was removed from the list of schools that were in Academic Distress due to the lack of student achievement over a three year period. The district has doubled the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses, and they have kept their finances in check during challenging times due to a decrease in student enrollment.

“We have provided a model for the schools in how to focus an entire system on raising student achievement and removing barriers for our most vulnerable children,” Hathorn said. “I believe I have fulfilled my responsibilities as Superintendent and have accomplished much during my tenure thanks to the dedication and skill of our staff, families, and community partners.”

Guess has 40 years of experience in education, with 19 of those years combined as superintendent at Pulaski County and Camden-Fairview. He has a history of bringing schools out of academic distress.

He has served as an English teacher, gifted and talented coordinator, assistant principal, assistant superintendent, deputy superintendent, superintendent, and he has supervised special education programs.

“I have been associated with Watson Chapel for years through sports, academic and extracurricular activities,” Guess said. “My experience in education in Southeast Arkansas has allowed me to meet many teachers and administrators in the district. I am looking forward to serving as the interim superintendent.”

Guess said that he feels that his 19 years of experience as superintendent and his myriad of experiences in different educational roles will serve the WCSD well.

Board members Ronnie Reynolds and Goldie Whitaker voted against Guess becoming the interim superintendent.

“I have a ‘no-confidence’ vote for Guess,” Whitaker said.

“I was not impressed with Guess during his interview, and I feel like there was no diversity in the interviewing process,” Reynolds said. “Being that our school district is 85 percent African-American, a minority should have been interviewed.”

Last July, Guess was fired from Pulaski County in a dispute with the board over the district’s lawyers.

In other news, the board adopted Special Education Assurances and Agreements for the 2018-2019 school year.

According to the agreement, the district agrees to implement Special Education and Related Services: Procedural Requirements and Program Standards and Special Education Eligibility Criteria and Program Guidelines for Children with Disabilities, Ages 3-21 to ensure that it provides special education services to enable children with disabilities to participate in regular educational programs and that each child has a properly developed individualized education program.

In other news, Dylan Mayo, a Watson Chapel Junior High School student, was recognized for being awarded the National Beta Camp Scholarship.

Also at the meeting, the board approved uniform policy changes for the high school campus. There will be a change in the polo style shirt for 10th and 11th grades only for the 2018-2019 school year.

The change will include a light color gray polo style shirt for the 10th grade students and a navy blue polo style shirt for the 11th grade students. The 12th grade students will continue to wear white polo style shirts.

The intent of the policy change is to promote a wholesome school climate, security, equal education opportunity, and economical access to appropriate school clothing through orderly, uniform apparel standards for students.

In other news, an updated meal charge policy was approved by the board to reflect the district’s current practices for notifying parents/guardians of unpaid meal charges by letter once the charges have reached $15.00.

In other news, the board voted to accept a low bid from Master’s Transportation at $59,999.00 for a 2018 Collins TH500-F3100 Diesel Bus.