Dr. Craig Pouncey, who has served as superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools since 2014, is leaving that job to become president of a community college headquartered in Bay Minette.
Coastal Alabama Community College, formerly known as Faulkner State Community College, announced the hiring of Pouncey on Wednesday morning. His last day with JefCoEd will be Sept. 27, according to Board President Oscar Mann. Pouncey’s last meeting with the county board will be the day before, at which (or possibly before) an interim superintendent will be named, Mann said.
Pouncey was hired to replace Stephen Nowlin, whose contract was bought out in May 2014 after a troubled tenure lasting 16 months.
“We have been fortunate and blessed to have had him as long as we have,” Mann said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “Frankly, I thought we had lost him before when he went for the state superintendent’s job.”
Since taking over JefCoEd, Pouncey — a former deputy superintendent with the Alabama State Department of Education — has twice applied for the state job but failed to secure a majority of votes from the state board of education.
During the first of those two votes in 2016, Pouncey sued several state board members whom he said orchestrated a smear campaign that cost him the top job. An anonymous letter was sent to members accusing Pouncey of having members of the state Department of Education’s staff help him in preparing a doctoral dissertation while he served at the state office in 2009. Pouncey vigorously denied the charges.
During his time with ALDSE in Montgomery, Pouncey also applied for the state superintendent position and lost.
Pouncey’s time at JefCoEd was not without controversy.
In 2015, he proposed major personnel cutbacks that would have put 227 employees out of work, but hired 65 new positions at lower pay scales. The cutbacks were intended to reduce deficit spending by the district of more than $10 million in the previous fiscal year. That move brought major blowback from within the rank and file of educators and support personnel, which prompted the late Dean Taylor, then the president of the Board of Education, to put the matter into the hands of an ad hoc committee chaired by Jefferson County Treasurer Mike Miles. The committee, whose members included the local leaders of the Alabama Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, came back with a plan that would achieve the cost reductions over three years instead of one, and negate the need for layoffs. That plan was eventually approved by the board.
Pouncey was not above wading into politics during his time at JefCoEd.
In the most recent board election, he publicly endorsed Mann in his Republican primary bid for re-election against Jake Ware, son of Hueytown Mayor Steve Ware. Mann won the election by nine percentage points. Pouncey also endorsed Dr. Martha Bouyer in the Democratic primary, a race that she won handily. It was the first time in recent years that a Jefferson County superintendent had endorsed a candidate in a board election.
Pouncey has not been shy about criticizing elected officials in Alabama, usually about financing of public education.
Pouncey also presided over the system during the city of Gardendale’s attempt to break away and form its own local system. That effort was defeated after a protracted journey through the federal courts, which blocked Gardendale on the grounds that those who wanted to form the new system were racially motivated, and that the breakaway would make it substantially more difficult for JefCoEd to achieve “unitary status” and be granted independence from federal court supervision. The courts have had control of most major decisions taken by JefCoEd since the landmark Stout vs. Jefferson County Board of Education desegregation case in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Mann said that Pouncey was key in getting voters to approve the continuance of a county property tax that will fund several capital improvements, including new elementary and middle schools plus renovations to existing facilities. “That benefitted not only the Jefferson County Schools, but also other school systems in the county,” Mann said.
In 2017, Pouncey was named Alabama Superintendent of the Year by the School Superintendents of Alabama.
Pouncey could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A JefCoEd spokesperson said that Pouncey “will be formally addressing this with all stakeholders” and that the system would release a statement at a later time.
Mann said the board must decide whether to perform an in-house search for a new superintendent, as it did when it hired Pouncey, or whether to will employ an outside search firm such as the Alabama Association of School Boards, which was used when Nowlin was chosen.
This story was updated at 2:50 p.m. with comments from Mann.