By Ryan Lengerich
While Clovis schools Superintendent Neil Nuttall spent this weekend in Missouri finalizing the terms for his future at a community college, his colleagues say his years in Clovis were marked by change nationwide and decisions locally.
Nuttall accepted an offer to be president at North Central Missouri College in Trenton, Mo., on Wednesday.
Transported from Muskogee, Okla., Nuttall took over at Clovis in 1997. Three years later George W. Bush won the presidency and implemented the No Child Left Behind Act, changing the face of education nationwide.
Though many applaud the act, others criticized an underfunding gap that made adhering to the act’s federal mandates difficult. Securing funding became paramount for public schools in New Mexico and nationwide.
Assistant Superintendent Jim McDaniel said Nuttall and Assistant Superintendent Lonnie Leslie worked to secure state funding to implement educational programs in Clovis schools.
“There is more involvement in the political process both locally and at the state level,” McDaniel said. “I would think the one thing that has been a big impact is his involvement in the political process. I think they have done a very good job of getting bond money.”
School board member Ken Merritt said Nuttall’s expertise in acquiring state funds from Santa Fe has been critical.
“We have made even more improvement in our financial status since he has been here,” Merritt said.
During his tenure, Nuttall continued the school’s strategic planning process. In September 2003, 31 teachers, parents, community members, Cannon Air Force Base personnel, college faculty and Clovis schools staff combined to set missions and objectives for the school district.
But controversy was unavoidable.
In February, Nuttall was at the center of a debate over staff dress code. The controversy arose in reaction to an edict he put forward in December 2003, banning teachers from wearing blue denim. The school board voted in March to ban jeans.
At a school board meeting in March, Highland Elementary teacher Judy Kern spoke about what she said was a larger problem than dress code — morale.
“I feel that the morale in the school system at the present time is as low as I have ever seen,” Kern, a teacher in Clovis for 19 years, said at the meeting.
Friday, Kern called Nuttall’s move a “good transition,” and said the school board should look within the district for a replacement.
“I do feel that we need to find the person who will bring us all back together,” Kern said.
In April, former Clovis High School student newspaper editor Matthew Coker said Nuttall had told the principal to reinstate a prior review policy for the newspaper’s content.
The student journalists said administrative complaints began after publication of two stories covering cancellation of an attendance monitoring program and a ban on teachers wearing blue jeans.
In July the school board adopted a policy determining editors “are responsible for determining the news.”
Newspaper supervisor Carol Singletary said since the decision students have had control with no administrative interference.
“My hope is whoever comes in will adhere to the board policy,” Singletary said.
McDaniel said despite any controversy Nuttall has encountered, he has always stuck by his convictions.
“As a superintendent it is part of his job that not everybody is always happy with everything but you try and do the right thing,” McDaniel said. “I have heard him say several times that what he has to be able to do is look himself in the mirror and know between him and God that he has done the right thing.”