The Rev. Avery Headd, pastor of Poplar Hill Baptist Church, speaks at the Buford Board of Education meeting on Aug. 27, 2018, in Buford. Headd is now one of two black men on the superintendent search committee. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Buford search committee gets 55 superintendent applications

After residents demanded a voice in choosing the next superintendent for Buford City Schools, school board members vowed to involve the public and formed a search committee. Two-thirds of its members are current or former school district or city of Buford employees.

Two pastors and a parent who pays tuition for his child to attend school in Buford are the only members with no professional ties to the school system.

During open discussion periods at school board meetings and in interviews after a furor over racist slurs purported to have been made by former superintendent Geye Hamby, school board members vowed that the process of choosing a new school leader would be transparent.

At the September meeting, the board named Beauty Baldwin, a former Buford superintendent and the first black female school superintendent in the state, as the chair of the search committee, which has now received more than 50 applications. The committee posts are voluntary, said Gregory Jay, lawyer for the school district, after the AJC filed an open-records request. He added there is no written contract, only a verbal agreement for Baldwin and the other members.

Hamby resigned in August after being placed on administrative leave. Many residents of the small North Gwinnett city were outraged that he wasn’t fired outright.

In recordings included in a race-discrimination lawsuit by a former school employee, a speaker said to be Hamby repeatedly used the n-word referring to black school construction workers who had angered him. He also threatened to kill them.

Given the circumstances of Hamby’s departure, Baldwin said the school board wanted the committee to represent a cross-section of the community. The racial/ethnic breakdown is two white women, one white man, two black women, two black men, one Asian woman and one Hispanic woman.

Although they are pleased that the superintendent search is underway, Black Men United for Children & Humanity, a Gwinnett County advocacy organization said it is disappointed that the school board didn’t select a firm that specializes in recruiting and evaluating qualified candidates. The group presented a letter to Buford school board members in September beseeching the board to use a professional service and include the community in the process.

“The selected person (should have) experience in improving race relations in a highly intensified school district,” said Ray Wilson, BMUCH spokesman. “And (the board should) make a concerted effort to be very transparent.”

Although there aren’t more parents on the committee, Wilson said, he’s confident they’ll do a good job.

Even though the application deadline has been set for Nov. 15, Baldwin said the committee may accept late applications or even extend the deadline. To date, there have been 55 applications submitted. The school district advertised the post on its own website and those for the Georgia School Superintendents Association and EdWeek, a magazine for educators.

“We don’t want to rush this process,” she said. “The school board wants us to choose the best candidates for the job.”

Hamby had led the Buford schools since 2006. The four-school district has only about 4,800 students, but Hamby’s 2017 base salary was $308,000, among the highest for superintendents in the state, records show.

At the August school board meeting several hundred people packed the small spaces, spilling into the vestibule and outside area, to express their ire. After hours of enraged public comment, the board quietly named Joy Davis, a retired assistant superintendent, as interim superintendent.

Davis has said she’s not interested in the permanent position although several residents have urged her to consider the job.

Although she’s quite active in her retirement, Baldwin said she was pleased to be asked to chair the committee.

“Although I’ve been gone since 1994, I know a lot about the system,” she said. “I take this task very seriously and will find the best person to lead Buford City Schools.”

Committee meetings aren’t open to the public, but the next meeting is set for Nov. 16. when the members will go through the applications.

The other eight members of the search committee are:

  • Vice Chair Sue Morris, a former Buford City Schools superintendent who immediately preceded Hamby;
  • Ling Chin, a Buford City Schools front office employee;
  • Jessica Cooney, a Buford City Schools elementary teacher;
  • Rhonda Cunningham, a city of Buford employee;
  • The Rev. Avery Headd, pastor of Poplar Hill Baptist Church;
  • The Rev. Wayne Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Buford;
  • Nathan Jones, a tuition-paying parent;
  • Gloria Whidby, a retired Buford City Schools employee.

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