New superintendent touts Bryant’s pride

By Wayne Bryan Published May 4, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell speaks at a school announcement in Bauxite in 2013. He will step down from his post to become superintendent of the Bryant School District. Kimbrell will take over as leader of the school system on July 1.

BRYANT — The new superintendent of the Bryant School District will be Tom Kimbrell, who is currently serving as Arkansas education commissioner.

Kimbrell, 52, will step down from the state’s top public-education post and, beginning July 1, will take on the leadership of the Bryant school system. He was hired April 24 after being interviewed on April 21.

“I took the job in Bryant because of the major role the school system plays in the city of Bryant and in the life of the community,” Kimbrell told the Tri-Lakes Edition. “The community takes such pride in the school system, you just want to be a part of it.”

Kimbrell was one of five finalists selected for the position but the only one interviewed by the Bryant School Board, said Devin Sherrill, director of communications for the district.

Kimbrell met with the board members for more than three hours in an executive session, Sherrill said.

The superintendent-designate said he and the board members discussed leadership, and that most of the questions had to do with student success.

“The people in Bryant have an expectation of excellence,” Kimbrell said. “The schools have the support of the entire community; their focus is on the schools.”

After he was hired, Kimbrell said that, after negotiations, he had agreed to a salary of $200,000 a year, less than his $228,887.98 salary as the state’s education commissioner.

The Cabot resident also said he was looking to move to Bryant.

Kimbrell replaces Randy Rutherford, who was suspended by the school board March 10 after his termination had been recommended. Rutherford didn’t appeal the suspension; instead, he reached a separation agreement with the board on April 3 and resigned, effective June 30. Rutherford’s salary was $155,000 a year.

The board won’t disclose the reasons that Rutherford parted with the district, calling it “a personnel matter.” The school board has denied numerous requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Act for documents detailing those reasons.

Kimbrell said he was glad to be returning to a school system.

“In my last two jobs, as state education commissioner and as the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, I was away from working with teachers for nine years,” he said in a phone interview as he drove to see his son play baseball. “I enjoy working with educators and helping them help students succeed.”

Before he was tapped by Beebe to head the Arkansas Education Department, Kimbrell had served as superintendent of the North Little Rock School District for the 2004-05 school year and as superintendent in Paragould from 1995 to 2004.

“These jobs are really intense jobs,” Kimbrell said during the phone interview. “Both were jobs that were more reacting to problems every day. That wears on you.”

After Kimbrell was hired, School Board President Rhonda Sanders said in a statement that the board is happy with its choice.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Kimbrell join the district,” she said. “His strengths in school finance, curriculum and instruction will be especially beneficial.”

Retired education administrator Fred Dawson will serve as Bryant’s interim superintendent until Kimbrell takes over in July.

“We want to thank Dr. Fred Dawson for his leadership during this time of transition,” Sanders said in the announcement of Kimbrell’s selection.

Dawson has served as interim superintendent several times for various districts, including the Bauxite School District.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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