School Superintendent Ken Rich received a vote of confidence at the Jan. 17 Salem School Board meeting.
The meeting ended with an hour-long closed session to give Rich his annual evaluation.
When the public meeting resumed, the board voted unanimously to extend Rich's contract by one year.
Rich is already working under a three year contract, which runs through 2013. The year's extension will keep him on the job at least through the 2014 school year.
"We (the board) believe the Superintendent is a great manager and stays up to date on what is happening in education, statewide and on the federal level," Board President Karen Coffman told The News. "By doing so, Mr. Rich has helped bring in grants and other financial aid that has helped the school system."
"This is a great place to work," said Rich, expressing satisfaction with the contract extension.
When asked about his strengths as an administrator, Rich said his top priority is to always work to create a positive environment for students and staff.
"The best thing is our people," said Rich.
When asked if he had a role in bringing good employees into the school system, Rich replied, "I'd like to think so."
Did the board suggest ways he could improve his performance?
"I am always working to try to get better," said Rich.
Rich is in his 18th year in Salem. After one year as a teacher, he worked three years as an assistant principal and seven years as principal before becoming superintendent seven years ago.
"He must be doing something right," said Coffman, referring to rising state test scores during Rich's tenure.
Rich also gave a report on the school system's vehicle fleet, beginning with praise for the good job transportation mechanic Ed Foster does.
According to Rich, the fleet is in good shape and performing well ("knock on wood") so far this year. Two spare buses, 1994 and 1996 models, have plenty of life left should they be needed.
Rich added that, since the system has not purchased a new bus for three years, a purchase next year might be a good idea to keep the fleet in top condition.
The superintendent also recommended the board consider buying a new car this year to replace one of the three currently used for school business.
A 1990 Chevrolet Lumina, used by transportation staff to check bus routes, pick up parts and run errands, has 197,000 miles on it.
A 1999 Ford Taurus used for drivers education has 162,000 miles on the odometer and a 2006 Taurus used for transportation to teacher workshops and other events shows 89,000 miles.
Rich suggested retiring the Lumina, using the 2006 Taurus for drivers ed and purchasing a new vehicle to use for teacher trips and other school business.
The board agreed unanimously, authorizing action to buy a new vehicle.
Rich told the board that, at a recent meeting of Arkansas school superintendents, many superintendents and state and federal school officials were frustrated about the failure of Congress to pass a new national education policy.
The current "No Child Left Behind" standards crafted by the Bush administration were supposed to be reauthorized or changed two years ago.
"We really do need an updated policy in place," said Rich.
A national policy lets school systems know what academic goals they are expected to meet, what rewards or penalties systems face for meeting or failing to meet standards and what federal education funds systems can expect to assist them.
According to speakers at the symposium, if Congress does not act by June, it will likely be after the 2012 Presidential election before the national education policy is updated.
Rich also discussed several education bills which have been introduced for the Arkansas General Assembly to consider.
One proposal would give school systems some flexibility in choosing a school start date. Under current law, the new school year begins on Aug. 19, in Arkansas.
House Bill 1099 proposes allowing school districts to begin as early as Aug. 14 and not later than Aug. 26.
In the past, the state tourism industry has opposed earlier starts to the school year, but many school systems believe an earlier start is needed, since the fall semester is currently shorter than the spring semester and "snow days" often make it hard to get all scheduled days and a full spring break in.
The superintendent pointed out Aug. 19, 2011, the start of the 2011-2012 school year, falls on a Friday. Rich said it would make more sense to start the school year on Aug. 15, the Monday of that week.
HB 1099 is a bill many superintendents hope will pass.
The next meeting of the Salem School Board will take place on Feb. 21, at 7 p.m. at the Superintendent's office.