Judy Blevins officially resigns

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Board of Education is looking for a new director of schools -- again.
   Dr. Judy Blevins submitted her resignation to four school board members via hand delivered letter on Tuesday after accepting a contract to become the director of schools for Campbell County.
   "I got an offer I couldn't refuse," Blevins said on Wednesday.
   That offer comes in the form of an $11,000 raise in base salary as part of Blevins' contract with Campbell County. Under the contract, Blevins will receive a base salary of $94,300 with two additional supplements as well as health and life insurance, and a vehicle allowance.
   A 23-year veteran of Elizabethton City Schools as a teacher and administrator, Blevins said the decision did not come easily.
   "It was a very difficult decision to make," she said. "Elizabethton is my home and will always be my home.
   "I don't look at this as a good-bye, I just look at this as a new challenge and opportunity and a new adventure," Blevins added. "More than anything the decision was made on how it will impact my future as far as retirement."
   Board vice chairperson, Judy Richardson, said Wednesday that Blevins delivered the letter to her residence on Tuesday that stated her intention to resign as director of schools.
   "I would rather she'd stay here, she's young and has a lot of experience and this is probably a very good move for her," Richardson said. "I think it is great for her."
   Blevins' departure marks the third director of schools to leave ECS in the last three years. Blevins succeeded Dr. Dale Lynch who left the system after being hired as director of Hamblen County Schools in September 2001. He had replaced former Director Dr. Jessie Strickland who resigned for a job in Georgia in June 2000.
   School board Chairman Dr. Robert Sams said the school system would likely conduct a national search for a new city schools' director per existing board of education policy. He said there was no timetable on when the job posting would be made.
   "I wasn't surprised," said Sams of Blevins' decision to resign. "They appreciated her talents and wanted her down there."
   He said any decision to go through the Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) search process would be at the discretion of the board.
   Sams also said the turnover rate for directors was based on the quality of sitting directors and the fact that the TSBA had mined the system for top level administrators. "Both of these we have lost have come from TSBA searches," said Sams.
   Richardson also felt the system's directors were being heavily marketed in other areas of the state by the Tennessee School Board Association.
   "I feel like TSBA is picking our pocket," Richardson said. "Every time we get a good prospect they are marketing them to other school systems."
   She said given the system's size and enrollment, ECS could not offer salaries comparable to what larger schools systems pay. "TSBA knows we have good things going," she said of the city system.
   Sams also bristled at the system becoming a "training ground" for top-level administrators recruited into other school systems.
   "I'm afraid we're going to be a training ground for other systems," he said.
   Board member Bob Berry is on vacation in Hawaii, Dr. Jonathan Bremer did not return a telephone call seeking comment and Catherine Wooten Armstrong could not immediately be reached.
   Campbell County officials had originally offered a contract with a base salary of $88,000 and total package of roughly $104,000. "I turned down the first contract and they came back to see me two more times," Blevins said.
   The persistence apparently worked.
   Sams said the school board had not made a counter offer in an attempt to retain Blevins while she was being courted by Campbell County school board members.
   Blevins has a little over two years remaining on the contract with ECS. She will be under contract with Elizabethton City Schools until July 29. Her base salary for the past year was approximately $82,000 plus additional supplements.
   Her departure marks the second member of the system administration to leave the system in past two months. Dr. Carol Whaley resigned earlier this year as the system's director of Special Education after she was not granted tenure by the school board. Felecia Baird was named the system's new director of Special Education last month.
   Blevins also confirmed Wednesday that West Side Elementary Principal Rick Wilson had tendered his resignation to the school system on Tuesday.
   Richardson said the system's revolving door of directors during the past few years seemed "a little scary" to her.
   "I came on board when Dale Lynch was superintendent ... six months later, he left," said Richardson who was elected to her first term on the board in 2000. "I'm not real sure what the deal is ... I'm not sure if there's a problem."
   Blevins became embroiled in a controversy late last year involving she and Elizabethton High School Principal Edwin Alexander. Alexander had filed a complaint against Blevins in November alleging he was harassed after being contacted by school board attorney Patrick Hull regarding a complaint filed against him by another high school employee.
   The attorney who investigated Alexander's complaint found no wrongdoing by Blevins. Alexander appealed the ruling to the board of education, which voted 4-1 at its January board meeting to uphold the ruling clearing Blevins.
   The high school's director of vocational education, Adeline Hyder, had also filed a discrimination complaint against Alexander in November stating that Alexander had questioned her integrity, loyalty, and her friendship with Blevins. An investigation into the complaint by another attorney found Alexander had improperly confronted Hyder regarding a conference
   Following results of the investigation finding, Blevins suspended him as EHS principal on March 30. The suspension caused an uproar with roughly 250 students walking out of school the next days after learning of the suspension. Students and parents continued to protest in front of the high school and around the city for three days until Alexander's suspension was lifted on April 3.
   Sams cited national trends that indicated a growing demand for teachers and directors of schools making K-12 education's best administrators in rarefied air.
   "When you get a good one, it's hard to keep 'em," he said. "All of this is going to turn out to be who pays the biggest dollar."