HAZARD — Eight months ago the Perry County school board tapped Jonathan Jett to head the school district as interim superintendent. On Friday, following a marathon of candidate interviews that lasted well into the evening, he stepped into the position full time.
Jett was one of five candidates the school board interviewed for the superintendent’s job throughout the day on Friday. He was eventually hired on a vote of 3-2, signing a contract to serve as superintendent for the next four years. Board Chairman John C. Combs, along with members Debbie McIntosh and Charlene Miller, voted in favor of the hire, while members James Ritchie and Jerry Stacy voted “no.”
Combs said on Saturday that Jett had performed well in the interim position, and he viewed the board’s decision as the right one for the district.
“I think he’s done a real good job out there,” Combs said. “He’s young and he’s got a good future ahead of him, and he’s got a good head. He stops and thinks about what he does, and he’s a worker.”
A graduate of the former Dilce Combs High School, Jett is a native of Perry County who previously worked as the district’s chief academic officer, and then head of maintenance and transportation. He was named interim superintendent in October 2012, following the abrupt retirement of former Superintendent John Paul Amis.
“I think he’s got a good opportunity to do a good job,” Combs added, “and I expect big things out of him.”
Jett was in a staff meeting Tuesday morning and did not return a call seeking comment before this week’s final deadline.
The school board will be less one member moving forward, however, as James Ritchie tendered his resignation following Jett’s hire on Friday. Ritchie had served on the board for the past five years, and said there were a lot of factors that led to his departure, including what he called “certification issues.”
Two of Jett’s three education certificates were temporary suspended following an investigation into alleged cheating on ACT tests in 2010. Jett was serving at the time as the district’s assessment coordinator and was responsible for testing security. Jett maintained his innocence in the case, but an agreed order issued by the Education Professional Standards Board noted Jett should have been aware some tests appeared to have been altered.
Probationary conditions were placed in the case, including that Jett no longer oversee any testing required by state statute. He was also required, by May 31 of each year, to submit a letter from the board chairman to the Kentucky Education Professionals Standards Board “confirming that he did not participate in or directly supervise the administration of any state mandated testing during the school year,” according to the order. Jett stands to lose certification if he fails to adhere to these conditions.
“I felt like we had much better applicants for the job,” Ritchie said, adding the condition requiring a letter from the board chairman in turn gives the chairman too much power over the superintendent.
Following former Superintendent Amis’s retirement last fall, Ritchie said the district was on the right track in turning itself around in the wake of the ACT allegations and Perry Central’s addition to a state list of persistently low-achieving schools. At present, he said, he doesn’t feel that way.
Ritchie said suggestions he had made during Jett’s tenure as interim superintendent were never followed up on or Jett was non-responsive at the time. He specifically pointed to stiffer drug policies for teachers and students in the district as one example of something he had hoped to accomplish. But ultimately, he added, there were numerous reasons that led to his resignation.
“There were some things that didn’t happen, that I felt like it was time for me to leave,” he said. “I’ll support Perry County the best way that I can. I really hope he turns out to be the best superintendent we have had and our district moves forward, for the sake of our children.”
Board member Jerry Stacy also did not support Jett’s hire, but said now that there is a superintendent working full time at central office, the focus for the board and the district should now be to ensure the best possible learning environment for the students of Perry County.
“What happened, happened, and now we have a superintendent in place and there’s a lot of very important work that’s got to be done for our kids,” Stacy said. “I want to focus on everybody pulling together and getting that work done and maintaining our focus where it needs to be, which is on our kids.”