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Former educator touts corporate, classroom experience in his bid for Washington Co. schools chief

April 20, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Clayton M. Wilcox, a candidate for Washington County Public Schools superintendent, held an informal lunchtime discussion with students Wednesday at Washington County Technical High School.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Clayton M. Wilcox, a former schools superintendent who took an executive job at Scholastic Inc. three years ago, said his experiences at the corporate job will help him better serve young people.

Wilcox, 55, of Westfield, N.J., is one of three finalists for the Washington County Public Schools superintendent job. The school board could name the next superintendent as early as this week.

He spent Wednesday meeting with various groups including students, school system employees, community members, and political and business leaders.

Wilcox worked as a teacher, assistant principal and principal in Waterloo, Iowa, near where he grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He then served as director of personnel services and executive director of personnel services and staff development for St. Johns County Public Schools in Florida.

He has been superintendent in East Baton Rouge, La., and Pinellas County, Fla. He left the Florida job to become senior vice president for education and corporate relations at Scholastic Inc. in New York City, where he said he got to talk to many talented superintendents across the nation.

In a telephone interview Monday, Wilcox said his Scholastic job was becoming more sales-oriented, and he wanted to return to a school district-level job.

Wilcox said he had applied for at least one other superintendent’s job, which he did not get. He said he applied for the Washington County post because he liked the quality of life in the area, and the school system was headed in the right direction.

Wilcox said he has visited Washington County before, driving around the Tri-State area while visiting his brother, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

The last superintendent job Wilcox had in Pinellas County was for a school system with about 115,000 students and 40,000 adult learners, he said. Wilcox said he spent about 14 years of his career in Waterloo, a midsize district like Washington County.

According to the Waterloo Community Schools’ website, the district has just over 10,000 students this year. Washington County has around 22,200 students.

Pinellas County conflicts
A review of published articles by the St. Petersburg Times indicates Wilcox was involved in some contentious issues in Pinellas County.

Both he and a school system attorney signed an agreement pledging to work together after tensions between the two men led to meetings with a former schools superintendent who helped craft the agreement, according to March 31, 2008, stories at TampaBay.com.

Former school board member Jane Gallucci, reached this week, said the attorney in question was not the superintendent’s attorney, but one of the board’s attorneys. The superintendent has a separate attorney.

Gallucci said Wilcox had a great communication style with the community, staff and board. During prior administrations, relations with the minority community were not good, but when Wilcox came in one of the first things he did was meet with different minority community groups, she said.

Asked if Wilcox worked well with others during his tenure, board member Janet Clark said: “Clayton has a strong personality and he can be pretty forceful at times. He knows what he would like to do.

“I would not describe him as collaborative,” Clark said.

Wilcox said he is passionate in his advocacy for students.

“There have been tough conversations, absolutely. Education is important for kids,” Wilcox said.

If there was someone working to the detriment of students, that would have to change, he said.

Funding fight
In 2009, the St. Petersburg Times published stories about the school board being displeased after members learned that Wilcox — who had already left for his job at Scholastic — had agreed that the Pinellas Education Foundation would provide $1.5 million to help finish a new culinary arts academy at one of the school system’s high schools.

That figure was later revised to $956,294.

Wilcox said Monday that the board’s leadership was aware of the funding commitment, but the board had not seen his letter to the foundation until after he left.

Gallucci said she had known about the funding issue.

But Clark said there had been some confusion about the funding issue. The school system ended up providing some funds after contributions from the business community didn’t cover the academy’s full cost, but the school system is being paid back the money.

Clark said Wilcox got the Pinellas County school system to modernize, using more technology. That included capturing real-time student achievement data that teachers could use to develop lesson plans to address individual student needs, Clark said.

In the mid-2000s, Wilcox also came up with the idea to use a phone system to send messages out to parents, she said.

Gallucci said Wilcox “made changes that needed to be made, which are always difficult.”

“He’s a man who has a love in his heart for kids above all. He’s extremely bright. He has a vision. He’s one of these people who can see the big picture,” said Gallucci, who served as board president for the National School Boards Association from 2006-2007.

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