The Fort Payne Board of Education reluctantly accepted Superintendent Jim Cunningham’s announcement that he plans to retire, effective October 1.
Board members offered their gratitude for his 36 years of service to the city schools, including the past 18 at the helm, as they began the search for a successor.
“This has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me because we have a great school system in a great community, working with outstanding board members, and I really appreciate that,” Cunningham said. “Our employees are fantastic, as you know.”
Board attorney Rocky Watson and Board President Jimmy Durham offered comments praising Cunningham’s forward-looking leadership to build campus facilities and tech infrastructure that have resulted in academic and athletic excellence, including success in keeping children learning and reopening schools despite the many challenges of doing so during a pandemic.
Cunningham passed along much of the credit to school system employees, noting their lack of complaining and a unity of purpose during tough times, saying, “Our employees are fantastic, as you know.”
To reward them for their dedication and hard work during the COVID-19 outbreak, he recommended and the school board approved a one-time supplemental payment of $1,250 for all regular certified and support employees of the school system, provided they worked the full 2020-21 school year to this point. The amount will be prorated for employees who work less than a full day, full week or full schedule.
Being a product of the local schools prepared him for many opportunities, Cunningham said. Now he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandson, but he said he will always be with the schools in spirit and offering his support.
Watson said Cunningham’s leadership had resulted in some of the school system’s best years of progress and thanked him on behalf of parents whose children had benefitted. Durham noted it had been extremely rare for any citizens to contact him to ever complain about Cunningham or the school system.
In other business, the board:
• acknowledged that Board Vice-President Kathy Prater’s term expires in June and welcomed Randy Bynum, who was appointed by the Fort Payne City Council two days earlier to fill that seat for the next five years. Cunningham thanked Prater for her 15 years of service to the city schools, noting her kindness, consideration and thoughtfulness. He said he will miss her but also looks forward to welcoming Bynum, a familiar face as the high school’s first school resource officer and the city’s recently retired chief of police.
• approved Thrive Outdoor, Inc., as the lowest bid substantially in compliance with the required specifications for landscaping Little Ridge Intermediate School at $221,397.28. Cunningham noted that this includes irrigation designed by the architects and planting grass this summer in preparation for the school to open.
• approved additional work days during the summer for elementary gifted teacher Michelle Pettis, elementary math coach Sherri Gibbs, instructional technology specialists Kelley Chapman and Hannah Turner, Wills Valley Elementary School employees Regina Boatwright, Janet Guerra and Teresa Barksdale, Fort Payne Middle School counselors Shannon Patterson and Dena Wilbanks, Fort Payne High School’s Steve Black, mental health services coordinator Kayla Magbie and social worker Erin Cagle.
• approved a request from FPHS principal and athletic director Brian Jett for the high school football team to travel to Ringgold, Ga. high school on July 15.
• approved extension of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act through May 27 as allowed in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
• approved declaring a list of library books at WAES as surplus due to age, usefulness or non-operating status.
• approved May 18 at 6 p.m. as the date and time of the next school board meeting. This will be different than their normal meeting time due to it conflicting with scheduled graduation ceremonies.