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Gainesville schools name Dyer new superintendent

Decision ‘seemed like the right thing to do’

POSTED: October 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of Gainesville City Schools

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The Gainesville school board has unanimously named Merrianne Dyer its permanent new superintendent.

Dyer, who has served as interim superintendent since Steven Ballowe was fired from the post July 3, became the school system’s superintendent at a called school board meeting at 8 a.m. Friday. The board promoted Dyer from her position as Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School principal and appointed her to the interim superintendent position on July 15.

Dyer said prior to this morning’s meeting she was aware she would be named superintendent, but did not expect to see 12 of her classmates from the Gainesville High School class of 1970 seated alongside board members. Three of Dyer’s former high school teachers, including Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras who taught her French, also were at the called meeting to support Dyer’s new appointment.

Although Dyer said she never had her sights set on becoming superintendent, she said the role is one she’s happy to assume in an effort to bring stability to the school system following a tumultuous year.

"As we kept working forward, it seemed like the right thing to do," Dyer said. "It’s just the best thing for continuity for us to not have to stop and do a search during critical work.

"People are ready for stability. They’re ready to know what’s going to happen."

David Syfan, chairman of the Gainesville City Board of Education, said Dyer came into the interim superintendent role during a time of financial turmoil following the firing of Ballowe. He said her leadership and communication with the school board has been instrumental in
helping the school system devise a plan to dig its way out of an estimated $5.6 million deficit.

"Dr. Dyer has done a wonderful job of rising to the challenge of getting our system back on track regarding financial matters," Syfan said. "The board ended up deciding we had everything we needed in Dr. Dyer. We had originally thought about doing a job search, but as time went on, Dr. Dyer was doing such a good job."

Syfan said the board decided to forego a national search for a new superintendent in favor of hiring Dyer, a longtime resident of Gainesville who has 22 years of experience in the school system as a teacher, assistant principal and principal.

Dyer worked as a teacher at Fair Street School from 1986 until 1996, when she assumed the assistant principal position at Enota Elementary School. After five years at Enota Elementary, Dyer returned to Fair Street School as principal, where Syfan said she played a pivotal role in helping the elementary school to gain the prestigious International Baccalaureate status in 2005.

Before entering the system, Dyer taught middle school in Jackson, Miss., during the days of court-ordered integration. The Atlanta native then moved to Gainesville and taught kindergarten for five years at the old Candler Street school.

After graduating from Gainesville High School, Dyer attended the University of Georgia before finishing her bachelor of science in education degree at Mississippi College. She went on to earn a master of education degree from North Georgia College & State University, an education specialist degree from the University of Georgia and then a doctor of philosophy degree with a concentration in educational leadership and policy from Georgia State University.

Syfan said in addition to her experience, Dyer’s ability to bring a divided community together is one of the assets he believes will make her an effective superintendent.

"She’s a great people person and can interact well with parents and teachers and students," Syfan said. "I think she is a person that leads by example. She’s not afraid to get in there and learn the details."

Karin Dillard, mother of three children enrolled in the city school system, said she’s thrilled Dyer will remain in the superintendent position. She said she first met Dyer 11 years ago, when Dyer was an assistant principal at Enota Elementary and helped her to determine that the school’s kindergarten program was the right one for her oldest child.

"I think that’s wonderful news," Dillard said of Dyer’s promotion. "She’s well-spoken. She’s honest and patient and kind. She’s helped me to have more confidence in the city school system."

Jack Waldrip, owner of Jack Waldrip Real Estate in Gainesville, vehemently opposed Ballowe and his deficit reduction plan that called for a 14 percent property tax increase. Waldrip said he believes Dyer is the right person to move the city school system forward.

"The business community believes in her. We feel she has the courage to make the huge cuts that will be necessary to dig us out from the massive tax burden that the last administration put us in," he said. "In addition, at a time of this great economic crisis, I personally feel that Merrianne will make tough choices that may not always be popular, so that taxes can be reduced for the Gainesville taxpayers and business community."

Now that Dyer can call the Gainesville school central office home, she said she’s ready to continue the gritty work of organizing the school system’s deficit-reduction plan. She said she’s already in the early stages of preparing next year’s budget and aims to fine-tune the school system’s personnel.

Syfan said Dyer was earning about $108,200 a year as interim superintendent, the same salary she earned as principal of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School. As superintendent, he said Dyer will make $133,200 a year.

Syfan said under the school system’s new charter school governance system, the Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School and Gainesville High School governance factions will help the board to determine whether Will Campbell, interim principal of the Fair Street school, and Chris Manse, interim principal of Gainesville High School, will serve permanently in those capacities.



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