Marlon King starts his day as early as 5 a.m. but doesn’t finish until anywhere between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
That’s been his daily routine since taking office as Jackson-Madison County School System superintendent on July 1.
“It’s a busy day, every day,” King said. “Early starts and late finishes.”
After job shadowing his new role for about six weeks, he’s learned to pace himself. After all, while he previously served as superintendent at Fayette County and Haywood County schools, JMCSS is a by far the biggest district he’s led.
It has nearly 13,000 students across 23 schools and employs over 2,400 personnel with a $106 million budget.
“I want to be here a long time,” King said. “If I don’t pace myself, I will wear myself out.
“Because of the size of the district and the scope of the work, I’ve learned and realized the importance of using my team.”
Seeing more than 100 people welcome him into the position last week was overwhelming and humbling, he said. It showed him that people in the community are passionate about public education.
“It gave me the energy to run faster in achieving the vision for (JMCSS) to become one of the best districts in the state of Tennessee,” King said.
Before King and his executive team can do that, they must implement a reopening plan for the district, which King has coined the New Normal Initiative.
And now that he’s taken office, he’s also concerned with the budget.
Both are challenges he hopes to meet with transparency as well as communication and collaboration.
Like his peers across the nation, King is focused on getting schools reopened during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
JMCSS has not made an announcement about what a return to school looks like — notably when a start date will be — because King said he wants to ensure the district has a plan that won’t have to be retracted.
Simply put, he doesn’t want to announce something, then change it the next week.
But the state is requiring schools have a plan by July 24, a deadline JMCSS will adhere to.
King said he believes parents are more concerned with reopening rather than what happens if the country stops again and education must pause.
That’s the biggest challenge to King because he wants to ensure teachers are prepared for a possible pause and students and staff are equipped to continue education.
He doesn’t want there to be a gap in educating students, as there was in the spring when many thought they’d return to school and pick up where they left off.
“Not only am I superintendent, but I’m a parent, too, so the concerns they have about reentering, my wife and I have about our child,” King said. “The concerns that parents have are valid, but I want people to know I’m in the same boat with them. I hope to use our collective efforts to make the right decisions on the best options for us.”
Budget: ‘We are a $100 million organization’
Although he attended meetings about the budget, King is still inheriting a budget he didn’t prepare himself.
The $109 million budget was reduced by $3 million. King said he’s been notified that the county commission may use the district’s fund balance to make up for loss of tax revenue.
The county commission already lowered maintenance-of-effort by the maximum legal amount of almost $417,000 because of a loss of 105 K-12 students.
“We’re building two schools,” King said about budgetary concerns. “It’s going to take money to furnish those schools with what they need to open in 2021.
“We are a $100 million organization, and if we want to implement programs and provide more options and opportunities, it’s going to take money. If we don’t have that, I think we’re going to run into a roadblock in being able to move forward with the things outlined in the strategic five-year plan.”
He’s been working with the budget since May 18 and has been conversing with the state education department and comptroller’s office to make sure he has all the context he needs to make financial decisions.
There are also areas King is proud to be working on, including an elementary and secondary disciplinary framework for when students return. The framework would include the steps and process detailing how students are disciplined.
Job beyond central office
For King, the superintendent’s job goes beyond the walls of the central office. He attends events in the community, like festivals, parades, census drives, church events and more.
Those events are something he said he “has to do.”
His outgoing personality is just a part of why he feels the need to attend events.
“You learn so much from people at events,” he said.
That’s one of many ways he engages with the community. But he tries not to take work home to his wife and son, who are his support system.
Once home, he tries to put his cellphone down, get off Twitter and give them the attention they deserve.
“We’re excited to be in the community,” he said. “We’re Jacksonians.”
“In this work, you have to keep a balanced life if you want longevity,” he said about his family. “That’s very important to me.”
Lasherica Thornton is The Jackson Sun’s education reporter. Reach her at 731-343-9133 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @LashericaT
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