Although he still has more than two years left in his contract with the Board of Education, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby has decided to retire, effective June 30, 2015.
Willoughby called a meeting with his central office staff and department heads Monday morning at the Board of Education building to make the announcement. WJLE was present for the meeting.
Willoughby then sent an electronic notice to members of the Board of Education. "My notice to the school board is Please let this serve as notice of my retirement as of June 30, 2015. Thank you Mark Willoughby". " I think it is in the best interest of the children," said Willoughby to the staff.
During the meeting Willoughby spoke of his relationship with members of the school board, most of whom were elected in August and took office September 1.
"I had a real good working relationship with the board for eight years. It's no secret that since September a couple of members of the board and I haven't gotten along very well. Hopefully their interest is in the best of the children. My interest has always been for the best of the children. I have fought for all the children of DeKalb County. But I don't think it is good for the Director of Schools and Board to have conflict. I think it is good for them to get along," Willoughby told the staff.
Willoughby has served as Director since July 1st, 2006. Just over a year ago, he was offered a new three year contract by the board of education. Board members at that time John David Foutch, Charles Robinson, Kenny Rhody, and Chairman Johnny Lattimore voted in favor. Members Billy Miller, Doug Stephens, and W.J. (Dub) Evins, III voted against it, preferring a one year contract instead.
Today, the school board has five new members. Four of them were elected last August including Danny Parkerson, Jerry Wayne Johnson, Jim Beshearse, and Shaun Tubbs. Billy Miller was re-elected from the fourth district but resigned later due to job obligations. His wife Kate Miller was then appointed by the county commission to Miller's position until the August 2016 election. The other two members are W.J. (Dub) Evins, III and Doug Stephens.
Willoughby's relationship with the new board has not been the same as the former board as was reflected in his annual performance evaluation in January when the new board found that Willoughby was not meeting their expectations. With a possible numerical rating of up to 6, Willoughby's overall average score was 2.92 as a result of the evaluation.
Since the evaluation, Willoughby told the staff that he has been asked to renegotiate his contract. Willoughby said he did not feel that would be respectful to the past board members especially Kenny Rhody, who has since passed away.
Willoughby concluded the meeting by thanking the staff for their support. "When you work with people in the same building it's like you become family. I love you and I think you are super, wonderful individuals and I am glad to call you part of my family," said Director Willoughby.
"I want to thank the Board and all the people of the county for allowing me to work with DeKalb County schools for almost nine years. I think there has been a lot of things accomplished. I am proud of the accomplishments that's been made. We've got some of the best employees that there are in the state of Tennessee," said Director Willoughby in an interview with WJLE after the staff meeting.
"After the elections things have changed but I don't think it's that unusual with school systems. After an election new board members come on and they've got new ideas and different thoughts. I hope as they search for a new director, the board will find someone they will feel good about and take that director's advice and do what's best for our children. I think that's what every director would want in any school system throughout Tennessee but that's especially what I want for our children in DeKalb County. I'd like for our board to do their best to try to find the best candidate possible and then work with that candidate and get advice from educators. I think that is the best thing for our children," added Director Willoughby.
Asked for a response to Willoughby's announcement, Board Chairman Evins told WJLE "I feel it is my fiduciary responsibility to call a "Special Called Meeting" as soon as possible, in order to allow the entire Board the opportunity to consider and act on Director Willoughby's retirement announcement and timeframe".