2011: A year of growth for Pike County schools

Published 8:54 am Thursday, December 29, 2011

Leadership changes and capital improvement projects dominated the work of local school systems during 2011.

For the Troy City Schools, the retirement of longtime superintendent Dr. Linda Felton-Smith at the beginning of the calendar year set the tone for the work that was to come.

Felton-Smith, who had been superintendent for eight years, announced in January that she would step aside as superintendent at the end of February, remaining a consultant with the district until the end of her contract term in 2012. Jimmy Matthews, a former assistant superintendent, was called in to serve as interim as the search for superintendent began.

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And the search for Felton-Smith’s replacement coincided with the district’s approval of bond restructuring that yielded $15 million for capital improvement projects.

“This week we’re advertising for a new superintendent. And tonight, we just approved the paperwork on $15 million in capital improvement financing,” Dr. Judson Edwards said in March. “I have a good feeling as we sit here a year form now we’ll be seeing a lot more smiles in the audience and a lot less fatigue.”

The school board at first hired a search firm to assist with the process, then rejected the finalists offered by the firm and declined to interview any of them. The board then initiated its own search, and selected five finalists to be interviewed. Lee Hicks, who was the principal at Prattville High School, was hired as superintendent in July … just a month before classes began. And in that month, Hicks and the school board had to hire two new building principals: Aaron Brown for Charles Henderson Middle School and Dr. Boyd English for Charles Henderson High School.

With new faces on two campuses and in the central office, the Troy City Schools forged ahead during the first half of the school year. And Hicks moved quickly to address the capital improvement projects, putting together a proposal for expansion at Troy Elementary School and the Early Childhood Center that would include room for a 4-year-old preschool program; construction of a new cafeteria and multi-purpose center at Charles Henderson High School; and a massive renovation at Charles Henderson Middle School.

In December, the board approved bids for the Troy Elementary School work and dirt should begin turning on the project in January. Hicks said he expects the work on that school to be completed in time for the preschool program to open in August 2012.

Work on the remaining campuses will follow, with the three-phase program expected to wrap up in 2014.

But the Troy City Schools weren’t the only ones to consider capital improvement projects. In October, Pike County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell prompted the Board of Education to consider what he described as much-needed capital improvement projects. Plans include spending nearly $6 million generated through bond refinancing and by tapping state funding to construct a new gymnasium at Goshen High School, a new arts complex at Pike County High School and improvements at all campuses to include roofing, flooring, electrical upgrades and windows.

“Our debt service is less than 2 percent of our total budget,” he said. “We’re looking at a $120,000 increase (in debt service) on a $23 million (annual) budget. I certainly think it’s doable,” Bazzell said at the time he proposed the projects.

And although the Pike County Schools saw several campus leadership changes, Bazzell’s position as superintendent was reinforced as the Board of Education voted to extend his contract for another five years in November.

Pike Liberal Arts School experienced its own expansion and capital improvement project this year with the opening of a new science lab in August.. “Something that, for a few years, was a dream has now become a reality,” said Headmaster Ceil Sikes. “With the amazing efforts and determination of so many Pike family members, time and perseverance has paid off for our young people and that is truly what this new science lab is all about.  It will provided many educational opportunities for our students.”

In addition to the science lab, Pike Lib also received Blue Ribbon designation from the AISA again this year. The designation, awarded to only 25 schools in the state, recognizes excellence in teaching, student performance, school live and school and community interaction.