Acting superintendent Whitson announces retirement

With Roberson still on medical leave, district could be without chief

Acting Superintendent James Whitson, who has been the head of the Richmond County school system since Frank Roberson fell ill last year, announced his retirement Tuesday, leaving unclear who will lead the district next year.

Because Roberson is still working no more than six hours a week until further instructions from his doctors, the school system will be without a superintendent unless action is taken.

School board President Alex Howard said that the system’s attorney will meet with Roberson’s physicians in the next seven to 10 days and that a decision on how to proceed regarding Roberson’s status will be made.

Roberson has been absent for about 14 months after having emergency brain surgery Feb. 24, 2011, for an arteriovenous malformation, an abnormal clustering of blood vessels on the brain.

Whitson, who turns 63 in May, said his decision to retire was unrelated to the issues with Roberson. He said he is interested in returning to a job as a college professor and spending more time with family, including a second grandchild who is on the way.

“Any time you say you’re stepping away from something I’ve done for 41 years of my life is difficult,” Whitson said. “But this isn’t something that’s new.”

Whitson joined Richmond County in 2009 after almost 40 years working in administrative and teaching positions in Georgia and South Carolina. He was hired as acting superintendent under then-Superintendent Dana Bedden and never expressed interest in being the face of the district before he had to take over for Roberson, who was hired in August 2010.

In his 14 months as acting superintendent, Whitson had to balance a budget facing a $17 million revenue shortfall, deal with state changes to the Georgia pre-kindergarden program and address a transportation system that began the year with serious glitches – while also continuing the duties of deputy superintendent.

“We asked a lot of him,” Howard said. “I think he did a great job. It takes a special person to do what he did, and he did it because he loves education and loves children. That speaks a lot to what kind of man he is.”

Howard said leadership decisions will be made after the board knows more about Roberson’s medical condition next week.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

• The Richmond County Board of Education voted to join a lawsuit with the August Commission in seeking a federal judge to redraw commission and school district lines.

• Board members voted down a petition from Clifford Lee Moss Art and Technology Academy to launch as a charter school in Richmond County. The board had authority to do so because the state is still acting under a law that gives local districts power to approve or deny charter schools in a school system.

Read the acting superintendent's letter of retirement.

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