Survey seeks public’s input on schools leader

Published 3:37 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

FRANKLIN—The first steps of the search for a new school superintendent have begun, including the circulating of a public survey asking for input of traits citizens and school personnel would like to see in the new person heading the school system.

The Franklin School Board agreed last week to produce the survey and distribute it via Web sites and mass mailing, a survey that might shape the sorts of questions asked of superintendent candidates during the interviewing process.

The survey was part of a packet delivered by officials from the Virginia School Boards Association, an advocacy group of the more than 100 school boards thorough the state. Franklin is paying $5,000 plus expenses of between $300 to $700 to the association to assist in the search.

School board members met with VSBA officers last week to review the plan to recruit qualified candidates, a plan that included a sample survey and a proposed timetable for the search, as well as tips for offering a contract to the most desirable candidate. An electronic version of the survey is available on the Franklin Schools Web site ( Hard copies are available at the school board office on Second Avenue, in the main offices of the three schools within the district, some businesses and the library. The completed survey can be returned to the nearest school, the school board office or mailed to the address listed on the survey.

Questions on the survey ask whether it’s important the successful candidate possess a doctoral degree, have experience as a superintendent, have teaching experience and whether that person is required to live within the boundaries of the school division.

In addition, the survey is intended to ascertain the importance of leadership skills, personal characteristics, board-superintendent relations, staff relations, community relations, school finances and areas of expertise.

The public’s written input is one part of the preliminary plan adopted by the board.

A second part is a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 16, where members of the public can speak directly to the school board.

Written surveys are also due by Sept. 16, after which the board will assess the responses and use that information to determine questions to be asked of candidates.

Once the public input is collected, the board — with the assistance of the VBSA — will begin screening applications.

Advertisements for the vacancy have been placed in national trade publications.

The plan suggested by VSBA officials calls for substantial public input early in the process, considerable reference-checking in the middle of the process and hardball contract negotiations at the end.

The board has tentatively targeted a December date to announce its hire.

William Pruett, who was hired as interim superintendent in August 2006 and later given a contract that would have taken him through the end of the 2009 school year, announced his retirement in June.

Applications will be accepted through Oct. 15.

Frank E. Barham, executive director of the VBSA, and Gina Patterson, assistant executive director, discussed the plan of attack in the search for a new superintendent. It begins with a “position announcement,” which will be made as soon as promotional materials can be assembled, the board agreed.

Patterson told the board that recruiting for new superintendents “goes on all year long. It’s always happening.”

The VBSA proposal, in a booklet containing nearly 200 pages, includes sample contracts, proposed questions of applicants, suggested public surveys and how to grade the input being generated.

Barham also told board members that Franklin’s position is an attractive one to applicants. He said the city’s proximity to larger towns is a plus, as is available housing. He also said a city division is more desirable than a rural division.