Citizens want leader to stand up for Franklin

Published 10:39 am Friday, September 19, 2008

FRANKLIN—School Board members hope to fill the vacant superintendent’s post early this winter, but they’re willing to put that choice off even longer, if they are unable to find the right person for the job by that time.

Board Chairman Bill Scarboro said Tuesday that the city will be rigorous in its vetting of potential candidates for what he called “the most important job in the city of Franklin.”

Among the 25 or so attending a special public hearing designed to elicit input on the process, there was little disagreement with Scarboro’s assessment.

“This decision has far-reaching impacts,” agreed Chuck Lilley, president of Franklin-Southampton Futures, noting that the state of the city’s public education system affects its economic development prospects and its attractiveness to homebuyers, thereby indirectly influencing future generations.

The School Board is “looking for all the help and support from the citizens of Franklin that we can get” in finding the right person to take the schools’ leadership post, Scarboro said. He urged the business owners, parents, teachers, principals and taxpayers in the audience to share their thoughts.

There were some characteristics that all agreed the new school superintendent should have. Perhaps most important, speakers agreed, was that the new person should be required to live in the city.

“The right leader will want to live in Franklin,” Lilley said. “He will recognize this small-town situation as an opportunity to immerse himself in the community.”

Franklin’s school superintendent also should be able to rally people from all parts of the community to support the city’s school system, speakers said.

The successful candidate should be someone who knows “how to get into every community in Franklin,” Edna King said. “We need the visibility of a superintendent in all areas of Franklin.”

That person, added Faith Atkinson, would have “no axes to grind, no baggage from the past, no good ol’ boys’ network.”

“I want fresh, new blood to course through the veins of the Franklin City School System,” she added.

Atkinson noted that she has seen six superintendents come and go in the 36 years she has been associated with Franklin public schools in one capacity or another.

Furthermore, she said, morale is low within the ranks of teachers, resulting in a dearth of experienced teachers. The new superintendent should be ready to address that morale problem by showing teachers that he respects them and “knows they are the backbone of the whole deal, the main integers and not just the exponents in the process.”

Dr. Pam Childress agreed, calling for a motivator and a team player to help restore a program she said had been “stagnant for the past five years.”

“We need to have a visionary, and we need to be creative,” she said.

Others agreed with the call for someone who brings a creative approach to problem solving.

“Franklin desperately needs someone to chart a different academic course for us,” Lilley said. “Ideally the individual will be confident enough in his ability to not be afraid of losing his or her position.”

As an example, Lilley said, the new superintendent should not be reflexively opposed to discussing a merger of the Franklin and Southampton public school systems.

Others were adamant that Franklin should be working to improve not just its programs, but also its public relations efforts.

“We have a perception problem,” said Cara Butler, whose oldest son just entered kindergarten at S.P. Morton Elementary School. “I don’t want to have to defend S.P. Morton to everybody I know.”

That school’s principal, Don Spengeman, agreed.

“I want a cheerleader,” he said, “someone who will look at not only what needs to be fixed, but at what is good. I do think at times that we don’t showcase enough of our strengths.”

“I want a superintendent that’s proud they’re here and proud of our children,” added Bev Rabil.

School Board members will spend time reviewing the results of surveys that have been made widely available throughout the city during the past couple of weeks, Scarboro said, encouraging those who have not done so to mail them or deliver them to the School Board office.

The two-page surveys are intended to help the board quantify city residents’ expectations for the new superintendent, Scarboro told those at the meeting.

Franklin will advertise nationally for the position, he said, and, with the help of the Virginia School Boards Association, then will begin the process of selecting the top applicants for further review.