Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

TOP STORY >> Former boss planned to let Jeter go

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Marvin H. Jeter III, Pulaski County Special School District’s assistant superintendent for learning services, resigned from his most recent job as a school administrator in Mississippi before his former superintendent could recommend nonrenewal of his contract, and there is some indication that the PCSSD failed to check his references at that school.

That’s according to Skip Lathem, superintendent of the Forest (Miss.) Municipal School District.

Jeter, the leading proponent of Jacksonville’s new single-gender middle schools, is seen as a polarizing figure by some area patrons, and he apparently had the same effect on some patrons of the Forest School District, where he served as principal for the 2001-2002 school year.

Lathem, who is still superintendent, said Jeter was involved in “some divisive-type issues” while at the district and was allowed to resign at the end of his first year.

Would Jeter be eligible for reemployment with the Forest School District?
“Not for an educational leadership position,” Lathem said Monday. “Not as long as I’m superintendent.
“I felt that he was not suited for high school principal. You have to be involved in the various activities including sports and that’s not his cup of tea.

“He was a creative individual, very well spoken, with good knowledge, but not in the practical day-to-day running of a school,” Lathem said. “I would not have made the recommendation to hire him back. He knew what my recommendation would be.”
“Anytime they don’t want you back … that would concern anyone,” said Rev. James Bolden III, a school board member.
Lathem said his office wasn’t contacted for a background check before PCSSD hired Jeter. James Sharpe, who was assistant superintendent for human resources at that time — and until his appointment to interim superintendent Tuesday — said someone in his department would have contacted Jeter’s former employer.

“Human resources is responsible to research backgrounds,” Bolden said.

Asked if the district should reconsider Jeter’s employment, Bolden responded that the Philadelphia Eagles let star wide receiver Terrell Owens go in the middle of the season.

Jeter and Michael Nellums, principal of the Jacksonville Middle School boys campus, appeared locked in a power struggle. Nellums is supported by many area school patrons, especially those who worked in the past toward making Jacksonville a stand-alone school district.

Jeter asked Bonita Rownd, director of the Jacksonville Cham-ber of Commerce, to support him in his efforts to have Nellums reassigned to another school, according to a letter she delivered to then-acting Superintendent Robert Clowers following an Oct. 18 meeting of the chamber’s education committee.

“Jeter asked for my assistance in having Nellums removed,” Rownd wrote.

Rownd said Tuesday that she had kept the letter private, but made a copy available to The Leader after someone apparently leaked it.
According to her letter, Jeter told her that Nellums “Didn’t have the experience to handle the intricacies of a challenging new program” and said he needed to be moved to another school, but that the community seemed to like Nellums.

According to Rownd, Jeter charged that Nellums, Bolden and Karl Brown, assistant superintendent for equity and pupil services, had formed “a power block to try to get things done their own way.”

“I felt that the conversation was very inappropriate and unprofessional,” Rownd wrote. “I have known Dr. Bolden for many years and know his intentions are honorable and above reproach. His mission is helping our school children receive a quality education.

“On another occasion, Jeter told an untruth to Dr. Bolden, Clowers and Mr. Nellums. He told them I said I had businesses that would pay for an awning to be built between the two middle school buildings. I had not said this, but in fact had been in a meeting where he was questioned about having this built, and he said the district would take care of it.”

Nellums won a recent round in his battle when Attorney General Mike Beebe issued an opinion that the boys campus was not subject to the decisions made by the site-based council at the girls campus.

Locally, Bolden, businessman Mark Perry, Mayor Tommy Swaim and others have been supportive of Nellums’ efforts on behalf of the boys campus and state Rep. Will Bond asked Beebe for an opinion.

As a result of the opinion, Nellums hopes to change the boys campus’ schedule to the traditional seven-period schedule, which he says will enable additional classes, electives and help with discipline problems.

If the girls campus continues to use the block schedule, there could be a problem scheduling coeducational electives.
Jeter was in meetings Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.