Bibb school tenure ‘amazing learning experience,’ departing administrator says

mstucka@macon.comJuly 30, 2013 

One of former Bibb County school Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s lieutenants is leaving Macon to return to Minnesota.

Susanne Griffin-Ziebart will become the chief academic officer for Minneapolis public schools, a system of about 38,000 students. Her last day with the Bibb County school system will be Aug. 9.

In Macon, Griffin-Ziebart served as deputy superintendent of school improvement and redesign. She joined the district in 2011 from Rochester public schools, where she worked for 23 years.

After the Bibb County school board bought out Dallemand’s contract earlier this year, Griffin-Ziebart also served as acting school superintendent, a job that was originally supposed to last no more than 30 days. She led the system for more than three months and helped the school board close an $18.7 million budget shortfall.

Griffin-Ziebart told The Telegraph that Steve Smith, the system’s new interim superintendent, had supported her, but she applied for the new job in April because it offered her a chance to get closer to her husband, parents, brother and sister, who all live in Minnesota. The new job is a step up, in a larger system with more responsibilities.

“I’m excited. It’s bittersweet, but I’m excited,” Griffin-Ziebart said. “It really has been just an amazing learning experience for me. I’ve met some incredible people. There are some really dedicated professionals here who I know will really continue good work on behalf of students.”

As deputy superintendent of school improvement and redesign, Griffin-Ziebart coordinated planning activity for redesign programs, implemented teacher training and helped launch new curriculums. She helped principals and the human resources department recruit, select and assign employees.

Griffin-Ziebart was one of the most visible of Dallemand’s lieutenants. During the budget-cutting sessions, an entire swath of administrators -- four associate superintendents -- was axed. The people in those positions, several of whom were brought to Bibb County by Dallemand, were moved into principal positions.

Smith said he plans to meet with the school board Thursday or Friday to discuss how to handle the vacancy.

“I’m going to have to replace her,” Smith said. “She is critical. She was critical to the success of the school system, and you don’t lose people like that without replacing her.”

Griffin-Ziebart was paid $147,742 annually, according to a school system database from March.

Smith said he may recommend finding someone to work in Griffin-Ziebart’s job on an interim basis, which would let the school system replace Smith -- scheduled to leave by school year’s end -- around the same time as Griffin-Ziebart’s replacement. Smith said he expects to scrutinize Bibb County for help, but added it would be a difficult time to replace a principal if he decided one was ready to advance.

Smith has turned to Bibb County veterans for staffing help. He told The Telegraph he is bringing back Leigh Brogdon Geeslin to help oversee school disciplinary cases. He also has brought Bruce Giroux back from retirement to help with test scores, and he hired Shirley Fussell to be his administrative assistant.

“If I don’t find a suitable candidate in Bibb County, I may look outside. Every person I’ve called on so far to help has come from Bibb County,” he said.

Smith praised other employees that Dallemand brought to Bibb County.

“I’m very happy with the people that Dr. Dallemand brought in,” he said. “I don’t have any problems with them in any way, shape or fashion. They’ve been extremely supportive of me, and I think we work together extremely well.”

Griffin-Ziebart said she was excited about Smith’s vision. She said she was glad that student achievement had been increasing and the community took a chance on letting her help out.

She said her biggest challenge was trying to get the staff and community to understand what’s being done.

“When you have the kinds of needs that you have here, it’s very difficult to be patient because you want to make a difference quickly. That’s the challenge, to try to build up relationships quickly, to communicate clearly and to be sure you’re supporting everybody through the process,” she said.

Smith has said he wants to rebuild relationships while improving communication and morale.

Staff writer Oby Brown contributed to this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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