The Fulton School Board Friday named a new leader for the high school.
Almost two months after deciding not to renew Teri Arms' contract as principal for next year, the board voted to hire Jason Whitt to take over the position starting in August.
"I think he has a good knowledge of curriculum and a good knowledge of student motivation and achievement," Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said. "His references all spoke highly of his ability in those areas. I'm looking forward to Mr. Whitt joining the staff."
In a letter to Fulton Public Schools staff Saturday, Cowherd wrote that Whitt was selected from a pool of 38 individuals and "was highly rated by the interview committee as an exceptional candidate."
The interview committee included Director of Special Services Barb Reid, Fulton Middle School Principal Jeff Wright, high school guidance counselor Sandy Kelley, high school English teacher Mary Sasser, high school social studies teacher Sharon White, high school principal secretary Brenda Hawkins, high school social studies teacher and Athletic Director Dave Milligan, high school science teacher Lance Bethell and Assistant Superintendent Suzanne Hull.
Whitt, who currently serves as the high school/junior high school principal for the Norborne R-VIII district, said he has been an educator for 10 years. He started as a physical education teacher in Granview before becoming the K-12 Principal in the Tina-Avalon district in 2006 and then moving on to spend three years in Norborne.
A graduate of College of the Ozarks and later William Woods University who expects to receive his doctorate from Saint Louis University during the 2011-12 school year, Whitt said he decided to make the change from teacher to administrator because he wanted a different challenge that would allow him to better-utilize his education.
"To me, it's still coaching, I just work with adults more," Whitt said, adding the decision also influenced by a desire to better help students. "I was seeing some kids left behind, and this was a little different way to help. I thought I could make a little bit more of an impact."
Although he said he does still miss the classroom sometimes, Whitt said he enjoys his new role in education.
"It's a new challenge every day. I like to see the kids be successful in the classroom and in sports; I get to see kids launch themselves in finding their niche," he said.
Whitt said his plans for starting at Fulton include maintaining achievement test scores and to continue with improvements, as well as "try to build a sense of accomplishment with the teachers and let them know they're doing a good job, because they are."
"I think everything is going in the right direction there and I just want to try to maintain that and improve in some areas," he said, noting that once he starts he welcomes calls from parents with questions. "I want to talk to as many parents and teachers as I can to see what direction they think the school needs to go so we can work to continue the success they have now."
After several visits to Fulton Public Schools during the interview process, Whitt said he has been impressed with both the school district and the community.
"I've met several of the teachers and students, and one of the nicest things I've seen walking through the hallways was for them to not know who I am and still treat me that nicely and politely is impressive," he said, noting a similar reception in the community as he starts the process of making the move to Fulton. "It's kind of a sense of being welcomed with open arms, and I really appreciate that."
Whitt said he also was struck that "the community seems really supportive of its schools."
"Last night I attended the baseball game and the community support there is outstanding," he said during an interview Saturday afternoon. "Just standing there listening to the crowd and the comments and the parents and students cheering; it was impressive."
Whitt said he applied for the position in Fulton because it was a larger district and a solid community that he thought would be a good move for the family he plans to start with his wife Sheri, a high school math teacher.
"I'm looking forward to the move to Fulton and getting embedded in the community, to getting to know the kids," Whitt said. "(Fulton is) somewhere I can see my family being raised."
"I'm really excited about this. I think it's going to be a positive change for me, not only in my career, but more importantly, I'm ready to find a place to settle down and stay."
Bethell said that enthusiasm is one of the things that made Whitt stand out from the other candidates.
"He had really good energy - I got a positive feeling from him," Bethell said. "He was really concerned about the kids, and that's the nature of our job."
He further noted that Whitt "seemed very able to handle the kind of transition we'll be going through next year."
"I think he'll look for opportunities to help the staff rebuild and go forward in a positive, upbeat way," Sasser agreed. "He was very positive, he had a very winning personality, and he had obviously done some homework and researched our district - he was familiar with some of our programs and teachers.
"I felt very reassured he'd work for the best interests of our staff and students."