Culver named ECS interim director

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A familiar face has taken the reins of the Elizabethton City School system -- at least temporarily.
   Richard Culver, retired former principal of T.A. Dugger Junior High School, was named interim director of Elizabethton City Schools by the system's Board of Education at a called meeting held Thursday night.
   "I am very excited about the opportunity to come back and serve the school system at this time," Culver told the Star on Thursday. "I thank the school board and school principals for their support."
   Dr. Jonathan Bremer nominated Culver and received a 5-0 vote from the board. Culver will replace Dr. Judy Blevins who announced her resignation last month to become director of schools for Campbell County. Her resignation becomes effective on July 29.
   Bremer also suggested the board buy out the remaining three weeks of Blevins contracted time as director to give Culver the chance to begin his position and fill several key personnel vacancies in the city system.
   "It is important we try to get someone in place," said Bremer. "I'd prefer to buy the contract out so we can be done with it and let that person make the decisions."
   Board Chairman Dr. Bob Sams said Blevins was currently acting in a consulting capacity for the Campbell County system. He said he would contact her immediately to see if she was amenable to a mutual buy out of her time.
   "I feel like this is going to be a good change," said board vice chair Judy Richardson of Culver's appointment. "I feel like it is time for us to move forward."
   Despite his new role, Culver emphasized that he had no intention of seeking to make the interim position a permanent job.
   "I enjoy retirement and have no interest in pursing this position permanently," he said. "I hope the school board can find a local person in a short amount of time, but I will stay as long as necessary."
   Culver also noted the system had other key positions to fill, especially the principal's position at West Side Elementary. Former West Side principal, Richard Wilson, resigned one day after Blevins quit.
   Culver will have authority to appoint West Side's next principal and the next assistant director of schools. Bremer and fellow board member Bob Berry pointed out several administrative level positions needed to be filled before the beginning of the school year.
   "If Richard is who we are going with, we need to bond together as people and help him get this done," said Berry.
   The stack of resignation letters submitted to the board in recent months gained another on Thursday night. Sams closed the meeting by reading a letter of resignation submitted to the board by assistant director of schools, Rondald Taylor, who was principal of East Side Elementary for 13 years.
   In the letter read to the board by Sams, Taylor wrote he wanted to be remembered as an educator who did his best for students and teachers, but "the last two years have been a nightmare".
   The naming of Culver is likely the first step back to normalcy for a school system that has endured its share of controversy over the past year.
   The system underwent major upheaval in March after EHS Principal Edwin Alexander was suspended by Blevins following a series of complaints involving harassment allegations made against both. Dozens of students spent days protesting Alexander's suspension until it was lifted after three days.
   "I don't want to be divisive; I want to bring some unity back to the system," he said. "This is a great school system with wonderful students and teachers dedicated to guide them through the educational process."
   A lifelong Elizabethton resident, Culver graduated from Elizabethton High School in 1966. He taught math at T.A. Dugger Junior High School for 10 years and served as principal for seven years until retiring in June 2002. Prior to entering the city system, Culver was a teacher for 7 years at Keenburg Elementary School in Carter County school system and spent three years as a teacher in the Johnson County school system.
   Culver said he expected the school system to have a smooth start when classes begin in August. He also said he had talked with system principals and had received good feedback about his selection as interim director. Culver also said he was initially reluctant to be considered for the interim director's position because he was enjoying his retirement.
   "The system has been so good to me for so many years, it is not problem to go back and serve them for a few months," he said.
   The board also voted 5-0 to advise the city government the system was interested in using the former Emergency Child Shelter building on Parkway Boulevard. The Tennessee Department of Children's Services ended the shelter's right to house juveniles at the shelter after a contract between the state and the department expired June 30, 2002. Ownership of the building subsequently reverted back to the city.