The meeting room was filled with Jefferson County Schools officials and administrators, plus mayors and other dignitaries, even maintenance workers, to see off Superintendent Craig Pouncey on his last day in office.
But perhaps none stood out more than Larry Lee — and it wasn’t just because of his brightly-colored Hawaiian shirt, liberally sprinkled with Auburn University logos.
Lee, a well-known public education advocate and outspoken blogger from Montgomery, was in attendance Thursday morning to give his best wishes to his friend, who is leaving to take over the presidency of Coastal Alabama Community College in Bay Minette.
“Craig, I didn’t know so many people were coming to make sure you got gone!” Lee joked. “Y’all had a good man here for five years, and I wish the state could have taken him away from you, and I’ve written about that…. God knows we need some leadership in Montgomery, where we ain’t got none.”
Lee supported Pouncey’s two unsuccessful efforts in the last five years to become the state superintendent. Pouncey previously served in positions at the Alabama State Department of Education, including deputy superintendent.
“Craig Pouncey has done a great job for y’all. He’s been a great friend. We’ve had a lot of late-night conversations,” Lee said. “Craig is a friend of education, and he’s never lost sight of the fact that everything we do is ultimately about helping kids in our classrooms. And we have some people in this state where that’s the furthest damn thing from their minds. We’ve got to remember that education only happens in a classroom between a teacher and a child.
“If I was a czar, every member of the Legislature would spend one day a year in an elementary classroom and get grounded and forget about reading some of these damn think tank reports that they come up with all the time,” Lee added.
Among others who spoke was Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland, who faced off against Pouncey during Gardendale’s recent attempt to break away from JefCoEd to form its own municipal school system, an effort that was halted by the federal courts. Hogeland praised Pouncey for always being responsive to any requests and needs of his city’s schools.
Pouncey took over the county system in 2014 after the board’s buyout of his predecessor, Stephen Nowlin. Pouncey is being replaced on an interim basis by Deputy Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin, whose tenure begins Friday. Gonsoulin is favored to become Pouncey’s permanent replacement by the district principals’ association, as well by leaders of the local chapters of the Alabama Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which each represent JefCoEd’s rank-and-file workers.
Gonsoulin served as superintendent of the Fairfield City Schools for five years before taking a deputy superintendent’s position with JefCoEd two years ago. He also served as the president of the School Superintendents of Alabama while he was at Farifield.
Board President Oscar Mann told BirminghamWatch that the process of selecting the permanent replacement will begin with the advertisement of the vacancy online, which state law requires within 90 days of the vacancy. “I suspect it will be done a while before that,” Mann said.
Board members will be advised on the rest of the process as part of their annual continuing education sessions with representatives of the Alabama Association of School Boards; that session will take place on Oct. 8, after regularly scheduled committee meetings.