Education

More News | |

Many Richmond County school board members willing to wait for Superintendent Frank Roberson to return

  • Follow Education

The majority of Richmond County Board of Education members are willing to wait as long as it takes for Superintendent Frank Roberson to return from medical leave, even though recent state test results made the district the worst performing among similar systems in Georgia.

Back | Next
Superintendent Dr. Frank Roberson speaks Monday at the Teacher of the Year Banquet.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Superintendent Dr. Frank Roberson speaks Monday at the Teacher of the Year Banquet.

Roberson walked into the struggling school district in August 2010, fell ill with a brain condition six months later and took medical leave that has morphed from temporary to indefinite. The goals for reform Roberson spelled out were no longer in his hands.

Now that almost nine months have passed without the school system’s leader, school board members have differing views on what his absence means for progress. Most say business has continued as usual under the guidance of Roberson’s cabinet, while others worry student achievement has suffered in his absence.

Some are willing to let Roberson ride his medical leave through the length of his three-year contract, if necessary, while his cabinet handles the daily work of running the system.

“Everything doesn’t depend on the superintendent,” said board member Barbara Pulliam. “It goes way beyond that. If you have dedicated workers, you have dedicated teachers, things are going to go on as usual.”

Although Pulliam called Rober­son’s talent to inspire others “a gift,” she said Acting Superintendent James Whitson has taken over with his own brilliance in the meantime.

The difference is that Roberson came to the school system with a strong agenda for change. He vowed to raise the on-time graduation rate to 90 percent by 2014, increase the num­ber of schools making federal “ad­equate yearly progress” standards and expand the number of academic magnet programs within five years.

According to data, all but one of those goals have been stalled in his absence. Be­fore reaching the 90 percent graduation rate goal in 2014, Roberson hoped to make it to 80 percent in the Class of 2011. Richmond County sur­passed that with 80.7 percent.

He vowed to increase the number of students in magnet programs from
the current 2,000 to “well over 10,000” within five years.

The week he fell ill, Roberson was supposed to host an event in which 20 schools would present plans for magnet programs.

The event was canceled, and only one school – Cross Creek High – has fully incorporated an official magnet program in its curriculum.

“They’re kind of sitting still,” schools spokesman Louis Svehla said of the magnet plans. “Dr. Roberson was really the only one that had any pure idea of what his plan was and, when he went out, there wasn’t a clear path or clear way to move forward ... because no one really had the specifics of what he had in mind.”

AS FAR AS student achievement, Roberson said he wanted 44 of the district’s 55 schools to meet AYP standards in the 2010-11 year, which would have been a leap from the 27 schools that made AYP one year earlier.

According to results released this month, only 25 schools made the benchmarks, two fewer than last year and 19 below Roberson’s goal.

Because students took the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests just two months after Roberson went on medical leave, board member Jimmy Atkins said the poor results cannot be attributed to Roberson’s absence.

However, Atkins is worried about how student achievement will be affected next year because students have had nine months without Roberson’s vision.

“I think he would have been able to see (this year’s) data and have a solid game plan on how to improve upon that,” Atkins said. “We can try to make all the excuses in the world about state criteria has gotten tougher or whatever, but the truth is we are last in the schools making AYP and, as a board member, I’m not happy with that.”

Atkins, Alex Howard and Helen Minchew are the only three of eight board members interviewed who said Roberson’s absence has affected the school system. Patsy Scott did not return repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment. Frank Dolan refused to speak with a Chronicle reporter because of his displeasure with a recent Chronicle article about his annual financial disclosure filings.

BOTH ATKINS AND Minchew said if Roberson does not return by January 1, they would want to meet with board members on what to do about the district’s leadership.

Minchew said Whitson has done “an excellent job” in maintaining the school system, but he never intended to be the superintendent. Without the leader chosen by the school board, long-term progress goals have been put on hold, Minchew said.

It’s still uncertain when Roberson will be able to pick up where he left off. In a phone interview Friday, Roberson said he is “getting closer” to coming back but could not predict a return date.

Although he is anxious to get back to work, Roberson said he is confident in the administrative staff leading the district and the teachers who are continually improving instruction for students.

“They have embraced a vision for a high quality school system for the children,” Roberson said of his staff. “They believe in it.”

UNTIL THE DAY when Rich­mond County can welcome its superintendent back, board member Marion Barnes said nothing in the system has suffered in the nine months without Roberson.

“We hired folks, we entered into contracts, we passed the budget. I don’t know anything that’s been on hold,” Barnes said. “We have someone in (Roberson’s) place doing what he would have been doing.”

National School Boards Association Executive Director Anne Bryant said most superintendent contracts should include a clause about how to handle unexpected interruptions in the leader’s role. She said having a consistent superintendent enforce vision and goals is essential for student achievement.

“No matter what the cause, the loss of a chief executive can be disruptive,” Bryant said. “Especially when you have a dynamic, powerful individual suddenly gone, it’s very hard on an acting superintendent in this case to take dramatic direction. That’s not what he’s there to do. He’s there to be a caretaker.”

Roberson’s vision of what the school system could be is what made people think he had what it took to turn the district around, according to Monique Braswell, local parent and president of the Richmond County Council of Parent Teacher Associations.

“We all thought Dr. Roberson was sent to us by God, trust me,” Braswell said. “Before he got sick, Dr. Roberson brought the morale of the parents back about this school system. ... The day he comes back will be the day that this system will get back on the path that he was taking us.”

HIS CONDITION

Richmond County schools Superintendent Frank Roberson is currently on long-term disability, paid for by the school system’s insurance company, because of an illness that began in February.

The superintendent underwent emergency brain surgery for a previously undetected arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, which is an abnormal clustering of blood vessels in the brain. Since the February surgery, Roberson has undergone physical therapy to help him walk independently. During an appearance at the 2012 Richmond County Teacher of the Year banquet Monday, Roberson had to have assistance walking down podium steps. He also walked slowly with a cane, leaning on his wife for support.

HIS CONTRACT

Roberson’s $170,000 contract does not include a contingency clause to address unexpected circumstances. The contract states any termination must be in accordance with Georgia’s Fair Dismissal Act.

Comments (15) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Craig Spinks
818
Points
Craig Spinks 11/12/11 - 07:38 pm
0
0
Hopefully, Dr. Roberson will

Hopefully, Dr. Roberson will return soon. The absence of his visionary and moral leadership creates a vacuum in the school bureaucracy from which no substantial, enduring improvements in the RCSS' embarrassingly poor student academic performance will escape.

southern2
7780
Points
southern2 11/12/11 - 09:42 pm
0
0
First, I wish Dr. Roberson

First, I wish Dr. Roberson the best. Let's offer Acting Superintendent James Whitson the job. He has proven to be a good and capable leader. This would remove the uncertainty that lingers in Roberson's absence.

raul
5721
Points
raul 11/12/11 - 10:32 pm
0
0
Is Dr. Roberson on unpaid

Is Dr. Roberson on unpaid leave or paid?

Craig Spinks
818
Points
Craig Spinks 11/13/11 - 01:52 am
0
0
(S)outhern2, Dr. Whitson is

(S)outhern2,

Dr. Whitson is obviously no leader. And he didn't come here aspiring to be one.

Augusta resident
1368
Points
Augusta resident 11/13/11 - 02:12 am
0
0
We thought the other guy was

We thought the other guy was great too. Did ya'll actually think this guy could meet those very high goals. Come on now, havn't we learned our lesson with trying to hire a Fire Chief? Goodness gracious people. If dedicated people have been holding down the fort for 9 months, then obviously we don't need a school board super. Theyb have been doing it for how long now????

Connor Threlkeld
960
Points
Connor Threlkeld 11/13/11 - 02:55 am
0
0
Raul, Dr. Roberson's medical

Raul, Dr. Roberson's medical leave of absence means he is being paid through a long term disability insurance policy issued by the district's insurance company rather than directly by the school system.

Rather
56
Points
Rather 11/13/11 - 08:41 am
0
0
His sick leave is up. Treat

His sick leave is up. Treat him like every one else. Fire him. We need an acting administrator.

raul
5721
Points
raul 11/13/11 - 08:50 am
0
0
@Connor Threlkeld. Thank you

@Connor Threlkeld. Thank you for the response.

Craig Spinks
818
Points
Craig Spinks 11/13/11 - 08:59 am
0
0
Ar, Are you cognizant of how

Ar,

Are you cognizant of how good a job the "dedicated" educrats at the top of the RCSS are doing?

Haven't you read in this newspaper over the last several days stories about how the RCSS has the lowest passing rate on state tests of any similarly situated public school system in GA?

southern2
7780
Points
southern2 11/13/11 - 10:29 am
0
0
I am also disturbed that we

I am also disturbed that we have the worst performing among similar systems in Georgia but do you think the results would have been any better under Dr. Roberson's leadership? RCSS has been doomed since the early 70's and it is no surprise that we have all seen it decline to this disastrous level. I think Dr. Whitson is as good as they come. We are fortunate that the only thing major that has been reported under his leadership was the problem with the buses at the beginning of the school year.

advertencia70
0
Points
advertencia70 11/13/11 - 02:33 pm
0
0
erase

erase

augusta citizen
10010
Points
augusta citizen 11/13/11 - 12:18 pm
0
0
This is a real predicament.

This is a real predicament. If Dr. Whitson doesn't want the job as adverencia70 says above, that probably means he doesn't want to do the job either. I don't know Dr. Whitson at all, so I don't mean that derogatory, just that I guess the above poster stated that from knowledge. No one does as good in a job they don't want. I continue to hope for Dr. Roberson's full recovery and return to work. Is there some way they could find someone who does want the job and hire them on an interim basis, with the understanding that they would get the job if Dr. Roberson is unable to return?

southern2
7780
Points
southern2 11/13/11 - 01:28 pm
0
0
I made my comments based on

I made my comments based on the assumption that Acting Superintendent James Whitson hasn't been asked. Why would they ask him if he would take the job with Dr. Roberson's future status still in question? Based on the article "board member Marion Barnes said nothing in the system has suffered in the nine months without Roberson" I must assume that it has been smooth sailing with Dr. Whitson at the helm.

raul
5721
Points
raul 11/13/11 - 05:41 pm
0
0
I would hope they have a

I would hope they have a least given Dr. Whitson a temporary promotion to the position with an appropriate pay increase. Also, I would think that Dr. Roberson should provide medical documenation with at a tentative return to duty date, so plans can be made accordingly, if he hasn't already.

Reverie
54
Points
Reverie 11/20/11 - 07:27 am
0
0
It is unfair and unreasonable

It is unfair and unreasonable for the acting super and the cabinet to do the job of a superintendent long term. We need a person in place with a vision and leadership skills to drive this megatrain called RCSS. Who is responsible for the mess we are in? Where does the buck stop? I guess our board members are at fault since the employees can finger point and shift blame to a missing superintendent. Step up board and be good stewards of our tax money and do your job. I'm sick of hearing how you don't like how education is going in RC, but don't take action to do anything. The megatrain is headed for a cliff, are you on it?

Back to Top

Search Augusta jobs