Madison City Schools bids farewell to James Clemens principal Dr. Brian Clayton
Clayton leaves James Clemens to become Hartselle City Schools next superintendent; hurdles remain as he prepares for new role
MADISON — Madison City Schools said goodbye this week to one of its beloved administrators this week. Dr. Brian Clayton is stepping down as the head principal of James Clemens High School after being named the superintendent of Hartselle City Schools.
Clayton has led James Clemens since the school opened in 2012, and was principal at Liberty Middle before then, serving under three superintendents and two interim superintendents.
“Dr. Clayton did an outstanding job as JCHS principal leading it into becoming a powerhouse school,” said Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols. “He leaves behind a legacy of excellence.”
Clayton will start his new position on January 4.
“Our plan for filling the vacancy is to name an interim principal while we continue to take applications and review data from the surveys,” Nichols added. “Interviews for the full time position will start after spring break.”
The Hartselle school board approved Clayton’s employment contract at an annual salary of $185,000. The contract runs through June 30, 2025.
Clayton, 52, replaces Dee Dee Jones, who retired as Hartselle’s superintendent in July.
Clayton may have some hurdles as he prepares for his new role. An online petition with roughly 549 signatures objects to Clayton’s hire. The reasons given for the petition include a lack of public input, and the board’s failure to ask Clayton during his interview about issues such as the inclusion of ideological positions in the curriculum and mask mandates.
Attorney Russell Crumbley filed a lawsuit on behalf of plaintiff Bruce Wilhite, who led the petition effort, against the Hartselle school board on Friday in Morgan County Circuit Court.
The lawsuit alleges the school board violated its own board policy and the state’s Open Meetings Act in the selection process that led to Clayton’s hiring.
Circuit Judge Stephen Brown denied the lawsuit’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked the school board from hiring Clayton, but scheduled a hearing on the lawsuit’s request for a preliminary injunction against the school board for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 3. Each side will be allowed one hour to present their case.
The school board conducted a series of 90-minute interviews with six superintendent candidates from Nov. 7-10. The lawsuit accuses the board of posting the meeting agenda on Nov. 15 at 1 p.m., five hours before the meeting at which it selected Clayton was held.
The lawsuit says the school system’s policy manual requires members of the public who want to present a matter to the board to submit a written request five days before the board meeting, which it said was impossible due to the timing of the posting of the agenda for the meeting.
The notice of the Nov. 15 meeting violated the state’s Open Meeting Act “because it did not include a general description of the nature and purpose of the meeting,” which is required for meetings, the lawsuit alleges.
Wilhite said the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on students is why families are so concerned about who is hired as the next superintendent.
“We must be clear on where our next superintendent stands on in-person learning, mask mandates and inclusion of political ideology in our curriculum,” Wilhite said.
He requested the board to “halt this hiring process (of Clayton) and re-interview candidates to address our concerns.”
On Wilhite’s claim that Clayton doesn’t share the political ideology of the Hartselle community, Hartselle school board member Dr. James Joy said, “There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”
Another school board member Monty Vest said she voted for Clayton’s contract because he “is the most qualified and capable candidate for the role.”
Clayton said he’s “excited and looking forward to getting started. I’m really grateful for the support and the opportunity.”
Asked about Wilhite’s statements, Clayton said he knows people are passionate about education.
“They just want their kids to have as many opportunities as possible and we’re going to do our best to create those opportunities,” Clayton said.