Richmond school superintendent finalists hailed by former peers

Dr. Faron Hollinger says he was recruited out of retirement for the position.

Dr. Frank Roberson says he brings a hometown interest to the job.

And Dr. Roy "Cole" Pugh says he'd like to continue Richmond County schools' progress, but he's also keeping an eye on his superintendent candidacy in another Georgia district.

The three finalists for Richmond County school superintendent have varying backgrounds but they all get positive reviews from people they've worked with before.

"If Richmond County is able to get him, they've done well," said Kyle Smith, the principal of Kennedy Middle School, referring to Roberson, whom he worked with while Roberson was associate superintendent in Aiken County.

Roberson, a North Augusta resident and Aiken County native, is the current superintendent of the Marlboro County School District in Bennettsville, S.C. He previously served as interim superintendent in Edgefield County.

Hollinger has been retired since April 1 from his seven-year-long superintendent role in Baldwin County Public Schools in Bay Minette, Ala. He said he hadn't really thought about returning to the workforce, but that changed when he said the Georgia School Boards Association contacted him.

"They were in charge of the (Richmond County) search and they made the contact and invited me to apply," he said.

Hollinger has also been a superintendent in Jasper, Ala., and his education experience dates to his teaching days in 1977. He said he saw the Richmond County opportunity as one he couldn't pass up.

"I think the challenge of an urban school district is very attractive to me," he said.

Baldwin County school board member Angie Swiger said Hollinger would be a good superintendent, adding that his greatest strength can be summed up in four words: "He hires very well."

Baldwin board member Norman Moore agreed, saying "I learned to appreciate Dr. Hollinger very much."

He said Hollinger unfairly took some heat from the community as economic conditions toughened in the past two years in Baldwin County, but he said the school system remains one of the best in the state, partly thanks to Hollinger.

Pugh retired in June as superintendent of Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD in Fort Worth, Texas, and has held the role of superintendent seven times, dating to 1983.

Two weeks ago, he was named among three finalists for a superintendent job in Fayette County, Ga. Melinda Berry-Dreisbach, the public information specialist for the Fayette County Public School System, said Wednesday that the school board there could decide on a final candidate as early as Tuesday.

Asked how he would respond to a job offer in Fayette County while being considered in Richmond County, Pugh said: "I'm honored that both districts are considering me at this point, and I'll just have to see how the searches materialize."

Nathaniel Moore Sr., who was on the Columbia-Brazoria ISD board in West Columbia, Texas, when Pugh was superintendent there from 1998 to 2002, said Pugh was "a great superintendent."

"The management style was very inclusive," Moore said, adding that Pugh also focused on such things as improving the dropout rate. "He wanted to make sure everybody was very informed. He was a big proponent of no surprises, which any board likes."

Since the start of this year, Pugh has been a candidate in at least three other open superintendent job searches. In February, he was among four candidates vying for the Pulaski County Special School District in Little Rock, Ark., according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. In April, he was among six semifinalists in the search to fill the Baldwin County, Ala., position vacated by Hollinger, the Mobile Press-Register reported. A spokeswoman for Bryant Public Schools, in Bryant, Ark., also confirmed Wednesday that Pugh had been a candidate there earlier this year.

Asked about the searches, Pugh said the start of a year is typically superintendent hiring season, and "You can't just apply for one because you don't know that you'll even be interviewed for any specific job."

Pugh said he left his most recent job because he had reached the point where he could retire in Texas, and "I decided several months ago it would be in our best interest to pursue a superintendency in another state."

Roberson has one attribute the others can't match: He touts himself as a native of the area.

"I think there's a level of dedication and drive that one would have in one's native area," Roberson said.

"I just think that the affection is already there. It doesn't have to be developed."

Roberson served as interim superintendent for Edgefield County in 2006-07. The school board there named him acting superintendent in March 2007, but contract negotiations stalled and he applied for the then-open Aiken County school superintendent position.

Roberson said that at the time he was up front with the Edgefield board that he had applied for the Aiken job.

He said the holdup in Edgefield came about as he desired a contract that would have let him leave the Edgefield superintendent post with 60 days' notice should he be offered the Aiken job.

He said he and the board parted on good terms, and have "a tremendous amount of respect" for one another.

The candidates

- DR. FRANK ROBERSON

Position: Current superintendent of Marlboro County School District in Bennettsville, S.C

Salary: $135,000 ($20,000 of which he said he applied to operations during state shortfalls)

Number of students in system: 4,800

Annual budget: $48 million

- DR. ROY "COLE" PUGH

Position: Retired in June as superintendent of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD in Fort Worth, Texas

Former salary: $195,000

Number of students in system: 16,100

Annual budget: $127 million

- DR. FARON HOLLINGER

Position: Retired April 1 as superintendent of Baldwin County Public Schools in Bay Minette, Ala.

Former salary: $184,967

Number of students in system: 28,022

Annual budget: $342.6 million

RICHMOND COUNTY

Former superintendent's salary: base pay of $185,000

Number of students: more than 32,000

Annual budget: $240 million

Sources: Candidate applications and Richmond County school system

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