Divided Hartselle school board picks Clayton for next superintendent
By Wes Tomlinson
A narrowly divided Hartselle City Board of Education voted Tuesday to hire a new superintendent.
By a 3-2 margin, the school board voted to approve James Clemens High Principal Brian Clayton as the new superintendent, but the two opposing board members said they were not given enough time to make a decision and Clayton’s selection doesn’t reflect the mood of the city’s residents to whom they’ve spoken.
School board Vice President Monty Vest said the board will now begin contractual negotiations with Clayton, 52, and decide his annual salary in the coming months. Clayton will start on the job in January.
Board members Daxton Maze and Venita Jones cast the opposing votes, and Maze read a statement to the board explaining his position.
“I feel like the process of formulating this decision in the last few weeks has been rather disappointing,” Maze said. “… To Dr. Brian Clayton, I want to be clear that you were not my first or second preferred candidate for this role. I hope you take this as a challenge, to prove to all of us that you were the right choice for this role.”
Maze said he had several conversations with members of the Hartselle community about what they were looking for in a superintendent and they told him the consensus was that Clayton was not their preferred candidate.
“I talked to people that were at the interviews last week, and that was their consensus: He was not best for the system,” Maze said. “I think he’s highly qualified, but he wasn’t my preferred candidate.”
Jones argued with board member Randy Sparkman during the meeting and said she was not given ample time to make a decision.
“I don’t think I was given enough time to make a decision, and I don’t feel like all these people are being represented,” Jones said, motioning toward the packed crowd in the library at F.E. Burleson school.
Sparkman responded by saying they had constructed a timeline of events on Aug. 30 so the public would be aware of the hiring process.
“They had the same time we all had to look at the applications,” Sparkman said of Jones and Maze.
Clayton said on Tuesday he was enthusiastic about his new role.
“It’s an outstanding school system,” Clayton said. “They do a lot of things really well, and I’m just proud to be a part of it. I look forward to doing my best to move the needle towards progress.”
The other finalists were Hartselle High School Principal Brad Cooper, Arab City Schools Superintendent Johnny Berry, Florence Middle School Principal Kevin Wieseman, Sparkman High Principal Chris Shaw and Hartselle Director of Operations Rocky Smith.
Hartselle is replacing Dee Dee Jones, who retired as superintendent effective Sept. 1. Sabrina Buettner is serving as interim superintendent.