LITTLE ROCK — State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell says he is looking forward to having a more direct impact on students when he takes over as superintendent of the Bryant School District on July 1.
“I needed a change. I felt like it was time for me to get back closer to kids,” Kimbrell, 52, said in an interview Friday.
Kimbrell interviewed for the position on Monday, and on Thursday the Bryant School Board voted to hire him. He will continue as state education commissioner through June 30.
Kimbrell said he wanted to time his departure from his current job close to that of Gov. Mike Beebe, who will leave office in January, but not because he expected to be replaced. He said the Democratic and Republican front-runners in the governor’s race have both asked him to stay on, but he only took the job in September 2009 because Beebe asked him.
“I did it because Gov. Beebe asked me to be a part of his administration, and I wanted to do that in a way that I could still be a good father and a good husband,” he said. “I feel like the last couple of years I’ve just not been centered on that. My life’s been kind of out of balance with what I need to do for my wife and what I need to do for my children.”
Kimbrell and his wife, Tina, have two children, ages 18 and 13.
Kimbrell makes $228,888 a year as education commissioner. He said his annual salary at Bryant is still being negotiated, but he expects it to be about $200,000.
He will replace Randy Rutherford, who was suspended by the Bryant School Board last month for undisclosed reasons. Fred Dawson is serving as interim superintendent.
Asked about his plans for Bryant, Kimbrell said, “I know that they’ve got some facilities issues that are going to have to be addressed because of growth and the failure of their last millage election. I do know that there are some issues that they’ve got to address financially, just getting some transparency in their financial reporting. And I think there’s always room for improving student achievement.”
Kimbrell is a former superintendent of the North Little Rock and Paragould school districts and was executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators from 2005 to 2009.
Under his leadership, the state Department of Education has implemented new accountability measures for students, teachers and schools.
“I think the highlight has been that we’ve changed the schools’ attitudes about what the role of the department was, and that was to be a resource and to be supportive of schools,” he said. “I feel really, really good that that attitude has changed in a majority of the schools out there. I’ve been told that many times.”