Richmond County schools super­intendent Roberson will return to work Wednesday

After almost 10 months on medical leave, Richmond County schools Super­intendent Frank Robers­on will return to work Wednes­day.

His first several weeks back will be a transitional period, with Roberson working only a couple of hours a day and receiving supervision from his cabinet, district spokesman Louis Svehla said.

Roberson has been out since February, when he underwent emergency brain surgery for an arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal clustering of blood vessels on the brain.

Deputy Superintendent James Whitson will continue leading the district until Roberson is able to take over the full duties of the school system, but board President Alex Howard said even slight progress is good news.

“I think the school system desperately needs its leadership at this point,” Howard said. “Dr. Whitson is stretched very thin, and we need to move forward with the school system.”

Svehla said in a news release issued Tuesday that it will be several months before Roberson’s doctors can complete a final evaluation on his work readiness.

Until then, Roberson’s duties will mostly include participating in calendar events, such as staff and cabinet meetings, professional learning sessions and other events.

“Initially, the focus will be to re-acclimate him to the routine of the workplace with supervision and the assistance of colleagues,” according to the news release. “As he becomes re-acclimated, he will take on more assignments.”

For most of the superintendent’s absence, Roberson’s family was mum about when or if he would be able to return to work.

Since his leave began, many of Roberson’s plans to reform the district were put on hold. Only one school has incorporated a magnet school program this year, although Roberson pledged to increase the the number of magnet students, about 2,000, to “well over 10,000” within five years.

Roberson also wanted 44 of the district’s 55 schools to meet federal “adequate yearly progress” standards in the 2010-11 academic year, which would have been an increase from the 27 schools that made AYP one year earlier.

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

Many employees in the school system have commended Whitson for the work he has done in the past 10 months, having to balance the roles of both deputy and acting superintendent.

In that time, Whitson has been responsible for finalizing a budget with severe state funding cuts, dealing with changes to the Georgia prekindergarten program and analyzing state test results.

“Dr. Whitson did a wonderful job,” said T.W. Josey Comprehensive High School Principal Ronald Wiggins. “He has a lot of experience, so he did great work while (Roberson) was gone.”

Ladell Fortune, the school system’s 2011-12 Teacher of the Year, said it will be refreshing to have Roberson’s presence back in the schools.

Whenever Roberson spoke with students or teachers, Fortune said, the superintendent always acted genuine, making it clear that his priority was to help children.

Because little was said about Roberson’s condition or status through the year, Fortune said many had no idea when they would see him back at work.

“His story in itself is such an inspiration to all us educators that we should just persevere, no matter what we’re faced with,” Fortune said. “I’m glad he’s coming back to lead Richmond County to greater things.”

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