Superintendent relieved of duties

Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas welcomes St. Paul Principal Audra Kimball as the interim superintendent of the Huntsville School District.

Huntsville School District Superintendent Dennis Fisher was relieved of his superintendent duties last Thursday and the Huntsville School Board promoted St. Paul Principal Audra Kimball to be interim superintendent until June 30.

Fisher was reassigned as assistant superintendent and his contract will not be renewed when it expires on June 30.

The school board called for a special meeting Thursday and immediately went into executive session to discuss the matter. Boards are not permitted to take action in executive session and must vote in open session.

“I would like to make a recommendation to the board that Mr. Dennis Fisher be relieved of his duties as superintendent ... immediately,” board President Danny Thomas said following the executive session.

Fisher did not attend Thursday’s meeting. When contacted Friday, Fisher said, “I don’t have any comment. If you have any questions you can email them to me and I might answer them that way.” When asked if he would stay with the district until June 30, Fisher twice said “Thank you,” then hung up the phone.

Thomas read a short statement about demoting Fisher and promoting Kimball. Terry Forsyth was the only board member to vote against the recommendation.

Fisher was hired as superintendent in May 2019. Thomas said he had spoken to Fisher about the situation.

“I have spoken to him over a week ago. He knew what was going to take place,” Thomas said after the meeting.

The school district between now and June 30 will accept applications for the superintendent’s job. Thomas said the exact window of when applications will be taken will be discussed more at the next monthly meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 13.

Thomas said Fisher was told he could stay as assistant superintendent or resign from the district.

“He still has that option. We just felt like that that would be a good move for him and us as a district,” Thomas said. “He still has a lot to offer that he could help us with. That’ll be entirely up to him whether or not he wants to take on that role or not.”

Kimball said Fisher was not at school on Monday when teachers and administrators reported back from the holiday break.

Thomas on Thursday said there were “just several different areas that needed attention,” and the board did not feel Fisher could lead the district in those areas.

The board also held an executive session in December to discuss the situation, but took no action at the time.

Last year voters approved a millage increase to fund the construction of Career and Technical Education buildings, install new heating and air conditioning systems in two gymnasiums and to build an activity center in Huntsville.

The cost estimates for the CTE buildings rose more than $500,000 from original estimates and the district is running behind schedule, after initially hoping to begin construction early in 2020.

Phil Jones of C.R. Crawford Construction originally said the project cost for the two CTE buildings, activities building and the HVAC projects was about $13-14 million.

The original building plans have been submitted to the state, but the locations have changed at the two schools.

“We do have plans that C.R. Crawford [construction manager] and Craig Boone [architect], they are trying to get with me now to see about setting up a time in the next two weeks about a presentation” about cost estimates, plans updates and more, Thomas said.

Thomas said the CTE facilities were one area of concern the board had about Fisher’s job performance.

“That is one area. We need a push and we feel like we’re a little behind schedule on things and we want to really push on those harder,” he said.

“I think Audra’s going to be able to really help with that, number one. Number two, Dennis, he also can help in that area. We just need to really get behind it, stay in their ears, sort of speak.”

Fisher was hired last year over more than 30 other applicants for the superintendent’s job. He was athletic director for Mulberry and Pleasant View Public Schools and the Pleasant View Junior High and intermediate school principal.

Mulberry/Pleasant View is a Class 1A school while Huntsville is a Class 5A school district.

In June 2019, Huntsville Interim Superintendent Tammi Davis said she was leaving the district after accepting a job with the Arkansas Department of Education, in coordination with the Arkansas Leadership Academy.

Davis was scheduled to return to her assistant superintendent duties on July 1, prior to accepting the position with the Arkansas Leadership Academy.

Davis was one of 33 people who submitted their application for the superintendent’s job in 2018.

Davis served as interim superintendent after Clint Jones left the superintendent’s job in 2018.

In July 2019, acting at the recommendation of Fisher, the school board approved the hiring of Cheryl Gall as assistant superintendent. In October 2019, Gall was relieved of her duties when the board voted to buy out her contract.

According to his resume, Fisher obtained his bachelor of science in education from the University of Arkansas Fort Smith in 2007, and his master of science in education at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 2016. According to the resume – which was submitted to the district last fall – Fisher was scheduled to earn his educational specialist’s degree in December.

Fisher’s experience before Huntsville mainly was that of a teacher and a coach. He was hired in July 2014 by the Mulberry/Pleasant View Bi-County School District.

Kimball’s first year as a teacher was when St. Paul was an independent school district. St. Paul the next year consolidated with the Huntsville School District.

Thomas said after Thursday’s meeting, “Mrs. Kimball has been with our district 18 years [Kimball says 17, plus the one year with St. Paul School District].

“She is phenomenal when it comes to people and personality and problem-solving. She’s a big asset to our district and has been for a long time. She has been helping Mr. Fisher for the last few months ... kind of behind the scenes that he needed some assistance with, so she already kind of has a feel for what’s going on.”

Kimball after Thursday’s meeting said, “I’m very excited for the opportunity. This is my 17th year in the district and I look forward to getting in and working with the teachers. It’s a great place and I want to do all I can to support [them] in any way possible.”

Kimball was asked if she planned to apply for the superintendent’s job.

“Not at this time, but I will fully support whoever is chosen,” she said.

“I have had a very blessed career. I had a great teaching career and I wasn’t ready to leave teaching and move to admin and the same thing has happened now,” Kimball said.

“The right doors have opened for me, always have, so if this is where I’m meant to be, that’s where I want to be.”

St. Paul dean of students Bruce Dunlap will take over the principal’s job there, Kimball said.

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