The Polk County Board of Education kept their choice of a new superintendent local with their unanimous vote on Tuesday night to approve the contract for Laurie Atkins to take over the leadership of the school district.
Atkins, a longtime veteran of the Polk School District, had most recently served as assistant superintendent in charge of instruction and assessment.
Board chair Tommy Sanders sought a raise of hands for the vote in the work session, and board members showed no hesitation in their unanimous vote.
"Mrs. Atkins has dedicated her career to the students and teachers of Polk School District," said Sanders in a press release from the board Tuesday. "It is only fitting that someone with her experience, knowledge and leadership skills be selected to lead the district as we continue to progress forward."
Other board members added their voices in praise for Atkins, all of who were ready to move forward as a district with their new leader.
"Thank you for being so professional through this whole process," said board member Kristy Gober.
Board vice chair Bernard Morgan added his thanks too and said "it's been a long time coming."
Board member J.P. Foster said he was excited for the board, for Atkins and the entire district.
"I think we know your heart and where it lies, so roll your sleeves up and get ready to work," Foster said.
Atkins said she was grateful for their vote of confidence and support in her new role, and said she was ready to face the challenges ahead.
"I want to take a moment to say thank you and share my sincere appreciation for this opportunity to allow me to be superintendent," Atkins said. "It's a true honor, and something I will always cherish. And with this board as a team, I think we have great things ahead of us."
Following the vote, Sanders presented his thanks to Greg Teems for serving in the interim role during the past months, after he was appointed to the position in March. Before Teems returned to the audience and his job as assistant superintendent, board members gave their praise for his hard work and he was presented with a plaque for his service.
"These directors and principals made it easy," said Teems. "Give credit where credit is due to the great staff that we have. Everything we've done we've sat down and talked out everything that we needed to do, to make sure that we were going in the right direction.
Foster added before Teems left the superintendent's chair for the last time that he came into the position in a difficult time and faced the challenge down well.
"He stepped into a role that we needed some stability, and Greg certainly provided that," Foster said. "It's been a pleasure working with you as a board member as interim superintendent, and you've been a great team member."
Teems said he wasn't involved in the hiring process, but was able to report that more than 25 candidates applied for the position in the initial hiring phase for the superintendent.
Atkins, whose role as assistant superintendent began in 2015, was previously the curriculum director for the district for 10 years, and prior to that was principal at Eastside Elementary for 3 years.
She also served as a teacher and assistant superintendent at Eastside before moving up in the administration, with 26 years total in the district.
Atkins holds degrees from Shorter, West Georgia and Jacksonville State universities.
Her promotion to the district's new superintendent comes with a raise to $150,000 a year for three years with a bonus at the end of the third year to be paid out on a monthly basis if she keeps the job on an annual basis through the contract, and a positive review of her performance by the board at the end of each fiscal year.
Like with the travel stipend in the interim contract for Greg Teems, there's only a $500 stipend included for her to use annually for trips to conferences or events required for Atkins to be present for work purposes. Atkins also gets 20 days of vacation.
Her contract stipulates the same conditions of employment as has been included for past superintendents of the system, and it expires in August 2020 before it has to be renegotiated.
Board Attorney Michael McRae said that Atkins had no additions or conditions she wished changed in the contract, a first in his recent memory for employment terms for the superintendent.
According to a press release from the board, Atkins' hire comes at the end of a four month process that was organized by EducationalPlanners LLC. They handled the process of gathering and interviewing candidates for the job, and also helped organize two community input meetings with the board and two rounds of interviews with candidates meeting with the Board of Education.
McRae thanked James Wilson, a former superintendent himself and consultant from EducationalPlanners.
"He's done an excellent job along with his company," McRae said.
Thanks were also given to former board member Hal Floyd, who also took part in the process prior to his resignation in August.
Previously posted at 6:30 p.m.:
The Polk School District has a new leader after months of interviews, deliberations which came down to a final decision to go with local applicant Laurie Atkins.
Atkins new leadership role became official tonight with a unanimous vote and she was met with a standing ovation as she took to her seat with the board in the meeting room and got down to business.
More details and comments from the board and Atkins during the Tuesday evening meeting will be forthcoming.
Check back for updates on the new hire later tonight.