School board calls for public input on job search

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, February 19, 2014

FRANKLIN—Gina Patterson, executive director of the Virginia School Board Association, came before the Franklin School Board on Tuesday afternoon to guide the members in their search for a new superintendent. Dr. Michelle Belle was informed several weeks ago that her contract would not be renewed this June.

“This is the most important decision you’ll make,” said Patterson about finding a new school leader. “It’s a process. Nothing’s going to take precedent.”

Along with walking the board through steps outlined in a workbook, she urged the members to establish a timeline for completing the goal.

Establishing public hearings and a survey are two examples that Patterson gave for involving city residents.

“I can’t express enough how you need community input,” she added. “Your best source is newspapers to get the word out.”

After discussion, the board has set 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27 for a public hearing. The members are seeking input for what the community wants to see in the next superintendent. The hearing will take place in council chambers.

An online survey is available at

Hard copies of the survey will also be available at the Franklin City School Board Central Office, each school administration office, the Franklin City Library, and local churches. Hard copies will be forwarded to all parents.

Completed surveys must be received no later than Feb. 27. Hard copies must be received by Pamela Kindred, School Board clerk, on or before that date.

“I want to see each board member do a survey,” said Will Councill of Ward 1.

He later said he got much out of the meeting.

“Wonderful. Great meeting. Lot of information. Lots to do. A lot of work ahead of us,” said Councill.

The VSBA will tally and send the results of the study. The board will meet at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 3 to discuss the survey and tell the VSBA what qualities it wants for a new superintendent. The position will be posted March 4 through April 1 to receive applications; Patterson recommended at least a month to get them.

“My 16 years of experience has taught me that timing is everything,” she said.

The VSBA and the board will meet Thursday, April 10 in a closed session to discuss the pool of applicants.

In talking about qualifications for a new superintendent, one of the issues is their own involvement in the community.

“They have to be visible,” she said, listing appearances at civic and sporting events. “It’s not a 9-to-5 job. That doesn’t work. That’s my bias. My experience.”

Further, Patterson urged the board to state up front what it needs and wants from a superintendent. She suggested that each board member come with two questions for applicants, but they should take care to avoid duplications.

The board should anticipate that the majority of the resumes are going to come in the last week, even last day. This is an applicant’s way to minimize any chance of the job search being leaked.

“Confidentially is key, is key, is key,” said Patterson.

She also told the board that it would do well to let the applicants know about accreditation matters up front, as well as any other issues.

Johnetta Nicols, chairwoman, asked if the board should visit the school districts of potential applicants, but was advised “that might backfire on you.”

“We’re not going to second-guess you, but if it doesn’t pass the smell test, we’re going to tell you that,” Patterson added.

She also told the members to be mindful of rules that guide how and when they communicate with each other about the applicants.

H. Taylor Williams, attorney for the city and board, told everyone to be mindful of the Freedom of Information Act.

“You can’t go wrong with transparency,” said Patterson.

“Hiring a new superintendent is the biggest task facing a school board and we want to make sure that the public has a voice in this process,” said School Board Chairwoman Edna King.

“We hope that parents, staff and residents will take time to fill out the survey or attend the public hearing.”