May 27, 2003 - Everything Alabama: Thailand RPCV Wayman Shiver Jr. wins praise as Birmingham's interim school superintendent

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: The Peace Corps in Thailand: May 27, 2003 - Everything Alabama: Thailand RPCV Wayman Shiver Jr. wins praise as Birmingham's interim school superintendent

By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 - 9:54 am: Edit Post

Thailand RPCV Wayman Shiver Jr. wins praise as Birmingham's interim school superintendent

Thailand RPCV Wayman Shiver Jr. wins praise as Birmingham's interim school superintendent

Shiver walking own road for pupils

School chief's style in high pressure post wins praise, criticism

News staff writer

When he spotted two Wenonah High students munching on hot dogs far from the cafeteria, Wayman Shiver Jr. knew the complaints were true.

Birmingham's interim superintendent had heard about possible improper activities at the school from Wenonah High assistant principals.

Shiver, who has been on the job for a year, told the students to take him to the source of the hot dogs. They did. It was to a classroom where a teacher had set up a grill and was cooking and selling the dogs in violation of school and city fire code rules.

That wasn't the end of the bad news. Shiver later confirmed that another teacher was selling movies to students and allowing the kids to watch them in his classroom instead of conducting class.

"I guess the best thing I can say about the hot dogs is that at least they smelled like good hot dogs are supposed to smell," a caustic Shiver said later. "As for the movies, your newspaper won't print what I'd say."

Both incidents and teachers are under investigation.

Shiver's year as interim superintendent has been filled with problems that have tested his skills, patience and temperament.

The son and grandson of Georgia preachers, Shiver, 64, is in many ways a contradiction.

He is a private person in a high-profile public job. He is a man who says he lives his life by Christian principles but who at an early age knew he wanted no part of a life as a minister. In a profession where a spouse is almost a mandatory requirement for advancement, he is a life-long bachelor. He is a man who on Sunday mornings sings in a church choir but goes to the dog track or a casino on Saturday night.

In a profession filled with senior administrators who would hyperventilate over the thought of being caught at a dog track or casino, Shiver doesn't worry about what people think of him.

"If I decide that's what I want to do with my money and my time, and it's not illegal, I do what I want," Shiver said. "I decided a long time ago that my business is my business and as long as I'm not breaking the law or hurting someone, I do things with my life my way."

That attitude showed itself early when he told his father he would not join him in the ministry.

"Daddy wanted me to preach but I knew that life was not for me," said Shiver, who was uprooted from town to town and school to school as his father was transferred from one church to the next. "I decided pretty early that no bishop was going to tell me where I would live, how I would dress, how I would live my life."

He graduated from Morris Brown College in the early 1960s and decided he would pursue an academic career, probably as a university professor teaching English or literature. After very brief stints teaching high school English in Georgia, Shiver was accepted into graduate school at Morris Brown where he also briefly taught speech, English and psychology.

Then the bug hit. Shiver had always wanted to see the world. His chance came in 1963 when a Peace Corps recruiter came to campus. Shiver signed up and was on his way to Thailand.

"I got tired of teaching college English and just wanted to do something different," he said.

During his two-year hitch, Shiver traveled across Southeast Asia, including Vietnam.

"I remember seeing American troops everywhere," Shiver said. "They were all young. I don't think most of them knew why they were there and how bad it would all turn out."

In Thailand, Shiver learned to speak Thai and fell in love with the country's food. In 40 years of traveling Shiver has been just about everywhere from New York to New Guinea and seemingly everywhere in between.

"I've learned a lot of things from traveling but the most important and the most basic truth I think I've learned is that people across the world are more alike in human qualities than most of us think," he said. "What separates us is cultural and language."

Back from the Peace Corps in 1965, Shiver attended graduate school at several universities while working on school civil rights issues for several regional foundations. Obtaining a Ph.D. in education administration, Shiver in the early 1970s got an offer to come to Fairfield and join the faculty at Miles College.

"I only intended to stay a short time at Miles," he recalled.

But he stayed 11 years. He sometimes taught English and was chairman of the school of education.

In the early 1980s Shiver joined the Birmingham school system. He worked his way up and down the administrative ladder under six superintendents.

Now he has the top job and even more problems than he believed existed when he took the job last May. State education leaders urged the Birmingham board to keep Shiver in place as superintendent.

Birmingham Board of Education President Phyllis Wyne said Shiver was the natural person to take the helm.

"He didn't want to do it at first and I'm not sure on any given day just how long he will continue to do it. But we needed someone who knew the ins and outs of this system. He was and is the right man for the job," Wyne said.

The system's problems have been massive. Spending millions more a year than it was receiving, the system was on the verge of state takeover. Under state pressure, Shiver developed a plan to cut millions of dollars and dismiss 500 employees in an effort to regain financial control of the district.

Wyne said that as hard as the job has been, Shiver has done it well. "He has told me his most important goal in this job is to make right what was wrong," Wyne said. "I think he's doing just that."

But not without making enemies and generating hard feelings. Michael Todd of the Alabama Education Association had worked off and on for years with Shiver negotiating employee complaints. He said that before becoming superintendent, Shiver was fair to workers.

"He was a man who I think always tried his best to do what was best for the employee and the system," Todd said.

Now, Todd said, Shiver is too often inaccessible and his decisions are hurting people, often needlessly.

"We understand the pressures on him have changed," Todd said. "But he's making decisions that are too often unfair to workers. I think he's closed himself off too much. He needs to listen to more voices before he comes to some of the decisions he's making."

Shiver was not board member Virginia Volker's first choice for the job he now holds. But Volker said Shiver has turned out to be the right man at the right time.

"He has integrity and he thinks through problems to make the best decision he can," Volker said.

Where Shiver still comes up short in Volker's eyes is his view of his job.

"Sometimes he still only sees himself as an administrator long used to having his way. He needs to understand he's also a public official now who must sometimes mold his views to what others may want," Volker said. "I also think that he needs to develop a little tougher skin. He tends sometimes to come back too quickly at people who disagree."

Problems massive:

Shiver has heard the criticism and even agrees with some of it. He said the system's problems initially were so overwhelming that just trying to get a handle on them left little time to listen to anyone outside of his staff.

Shiver said he's working hard to be more accessible. But he said the bottom line is he must make hard decisions that will restore financial integrity and help students learn what they need.

He has also been called arrogant and mean. He said he knows he can sometimes come off opinionated, but he bristles at the notion he's no fun.

"I'm at heart a happy man who likes to work hard but then have his fun," he said. "I like lots of things growing my flowers and vegetables, fishing, traveling and yeah, playing the slots. And I like people. I even try to like the ones who don't like me but I gotta tell you, that's not always easy but I'm working on it."

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Everything Alabama

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; School Administration



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.