Timing played a role in Dr. Tom Kimbrell’s decision to leave his job as Arkansas commissioner of education and become Bryant superintendent. This is the time of year when school districts hire administrators, and the time is drawing to a close when his boss, Gov. Mike Beebe, will still be in office.
Kimbrell, who became education commissioner in 2009, was hired Thursday (April 24) by the Bryant School Board and will begin his new job July 1. His last day at the Arkansas Department of Education is June 30.
Kimbrell said in an interview Friday that Beebe’s impending departure “probably played a bigger role than I think when I really consider it.” He said he has had lengthy discussions with Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson, and that both had suggested he continue as commissioner. He was not concerned about losing his job, but it would have meant working with a new governor.
He said his educational philosophy is more closely aligned with Ross, who, like him, is the son of a school superintendent. “I think it’s the unknown,” Kimbrell said.
The governor and the State Board of Education will choose Kimbrell’s successor. Beebe spokesperson Matt DeCample wrote in an email Friday that a hiring plan will be created when Beebe returns from vacation this week.
Kimbrell is the first high profile agency head to leave state government as the end of Beebe’s term nears, but several top officials are already leaving the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) for jobs in school districts. Those include:
– Dr. Megan Witonski, assistant commissioner for learning services, who is the ADE’s point person for the Common Core State Standards. She will become an assistant superintendent in Springdale.
– John Hoy, assistant commissioner for public school accountability, whose duties include charting school performance. He will be superintendent at Helena.
– Dr. Tracy Tucker, director of curriculum and instruction, who will be superintendent at Hermitage.
Kimbrell led the department through a time of significant changes in Arkansas education. Under his stewardship, Arkansas implemented the Common Core, is creating a plan to increase broadband access for schools, and implemented new evaluation systems for teachers and administrators.
“It’s constant. You can never get out in front of issues and try to be proactive. You are constantly reacting every day to new situations and new challenges,” he said.
Kimbrell had considered becoming superintendent at Fayetteville but had taken himself out of the running. The Bryant job interested him because it was closer to his current home in Cabot, where he has family members, and because of the primary role the school district plays in the community, which has no major industry or higher education institution.
“When you look at Bryant, Bryant is their school district,” he said.
Kimbrell said he hadn’t had opportunities in the private sector and hadn’t pursued any.
“I’m an educator,” he said. “When I got out of that position, I wanted to go where I was closer to kids, not further away from kids.”