Interim Richmond County schools chief won't seek top job

The soon-to-be interim superintendent of Richmond County schools, Dr. James Whitson, says he wants to continue moving the district forward this summer, but he won't seek to fill the job on a long-term basis.

"I have chosen not to apply," he said Friday in a conference room at the school system's headquarters.

The deputy superintendent, who has been with the district since July 1, said his decision is twofold.

"One is if I did not get the job, I wouldn't want the new superintendent to wonder am I going to be on board," he said.

The second reason is he feels the district needs a new leader who will be able to at least spend five years in the job, something the 61-year-old can't guarantee.

"I want to do the right thing for Richmond County. I want us to succeed, and it just seemed unfair to me (to apply) not knowing I could stay five years," he said.

Whitson said he is looking forward to filling the gap as interim superintendent between the departure of Superintendent Dana Bedden on June 18 and when a new leader is chosen.

"We're going to go forward," Whitson said of the interim role, noting that it will be a busy summer and whoever is chosen as the next superintendent will need to hit the ground running.

Whitson said he doesn't expect his interim role to last long, and board members have said they could have a superintendent as early as July or August.

In the meantime, Whitson said he will work to enhance student learning and focus on preparing the district for another tough financial year, knowing more state budget cuts could come by December.

He said he's also looking at how to address the likelihood that furloughs next school year could do away with all staff development days for teachers.

"We just can't stop and say we'll wait until a new superintendent comes in and tells us where to go," he said.

For Whitson, the interim position comes after 40 years of working in education -- many in the Greenville, S.C., area with a school district about 30,000 students larger than Richmond County's.

Whitson was born in Virginia but lived most of his life in Greenville, working there as a teacher for five years, assistant principal for 61/2 years, principal for 131/2 years and in staff development for five years. In 2001, he retired in South Carolina, but since then has served as an adjunct professor at Clemson University and a professor at Georgia Southern University. He was assistant superintendent in Douglas County, Ga., and Sumter County, Ga., before coming to Augusta.

Whitson said Augusta has been a good fit, partly because it's closer to his mother, who lives in Anderson, S.C., and his son, who lives in Greenville.

"I enjoy Augusta," he said. "I'm not a small-town kind of guy."

When it comes to the school system, he said, "I want us to be in the best position we can be in."

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