Board members announced Ann Jackson, current principal at Memorial Park Elementary School, as the district’s new leader. Jackson competed against James W. Stevens, who is the headmaster of the private school Crisp Academy in Cordele, Georgia, and Philip Westbrook, a former assistant superintendent for the city school system and currently an associate professor at the University of Alabama, for the coveted position.
Although board members said the decision was a tough one to make, they voted 4-1 in favor of Jackson filling the vacant position. Board chairwoman Rene Simmons cast the lone vote for Westbrook.
After an approximate 30-minute executive session, board member Willie Moore III began with his comments leading into the final vote.
“We set these qualifications of the candidates we were looking for, and when we voted for the candidates to be interviewed, all those candidates had to fill these criteria. For the record, I’ve prayed about this decision; I’ve had phone calls about this decision; I’ve had threats about this decision, from different people,” Moore said, “but at the end of the day, I am my own man. I make my own decisions through prayer, the way that I feel like the Lord wants me to lead and vote on this tough decision. We had three great candidates. You can find both positive and negative out of all three of them, but no one had any influence on my final decision. ... In spite of what rumors may say, nobody makes Willie’s decisions but Willie and Jesus.”
During the interviewing process, board members asked a variety of questions to the top three candidates regarding topics such as responsibilities of principals, building projects, financials, the role of a superintendent, college and career tech., teacher morale and much more.
Board members agreed that all three candidates were well-qualified and each one touched on similar subjects focusing on trust, not micro-managing and holding doctorate degrees.
Simmons was the first to speak on her choice for the city schools’ next superintendent.
“I have been through this process before, and I don’t mind stepping out there and just commending all the applicants. ... But, the top candidate that, to me when I go down and look at all of these characteristics, Dr. Philip Westbrook who has been in this system for 13 years, has gone to the University of Alabama and has added to his portfolio; his doctorate degree is from one of the top five institutions in the nation. I think he demonstrated his commitment of trust to the board,” Simmons said. “... I feel that right now he is the top candidate to be considered. ... Dr. Jackson, she is my second choice. That’s pretty much where I stand. Our goal was to hire the most experienced candidate to lead the school system in the time of building and transition, and I think hands down at this point he is our strongest candidate.”
Board member Walker Wilson had prepared a statement before a decision was made that conveyed his feelings on the search for a new superintendent.
“In retrospect, at the beginning of this search and even prior to that, I felt like I was being fairly close-minded about who or what I thought was the best to lead Jasper City Schools. I realized, once applications started coming in, that to be fair to the process, school system, community and most importantly the students, I have to have an open mind regarding the candidates and truly and honestly evaluate each to the best of my ability based on my opinion of each, free from agendas, politics, personal biases and other outside forces that only serve to cloud the process and try to influence the outcome,” Wilson said. “... The best person in my opinion that can lead, communicate effectively, make tough decisions, handle difficult situations, understands our system’s strengths and weaknesses, consensus build and most importantly has the trust of the people. I went through strengths and weaknesses on both of those candidates. Mrs. Simmons has put her choice out there and for me, after much thought and consideration, I have decided to place my vote for Dr. Ann Jackson as the next superintendent of Jasper City Schools.”
Jackson has 21 years of experience in education, from teaching to counseling to administration. She is married to local attorney Eddie Jackson and has two stepsons and four grandchildren.
Among the many questions she answered, board member Steven Gillott asked Jackson why was the position of superintendent interesting to her and why the board should select her as the system’s next superintendent.
“Well, let me say this: I have never wanted to be superintendent of this district or any other district. It has never been my desire; it has never been my goal,” Jackson said. “... But just like I have asked my teachers from time to time, I need help. I need somebody to step up and step out, and somebody does. We’re at a crossroads. ... It’s time for us to pull together. It’s time for us to get out of the politics. We need to leave politics to our politicians. It’s time for us to get back into the business of education.
“... Is this the place I ever thought I would be? No, it’s not. I’m very happy doing what I do,” she continued. “But, somebody in our camp had to step up and step out, and that was me. I feel like it’s a duty. I work here. I have deep roots here. My grandkids are in this system, well one of them is and one of them will be. I love this system. I love Jasper.”
In a brief phone interview late Monday night, Jackson said, “I am very humbled by it. I’m excited and anxious all rolled into one. I’m looking forward to getting started to work on the new high school and with teachers on the good things we have going on in the system”
Board members said they are hopeful that after a contract is finalized and things are in position, Jackson will be able to start full time as the system’s superintendent at the end of July.
Jasper City Schools’ Assistant Superintendent Jean Lollar will continue as the district’s interim superintendent until further notice.