An open letter to the Southampton County School Board

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dear school board members,

Any day now, if you haven’t already, you will begin the process of searching for a new superintendent to replace Dr. Alvera J. Parrish, who just this month announced that she would retire from her position as superintendent of Southampton County Public Schools when her contract is up on July 1. In an interview regarding Dr. Parrish’s announcement, the chairman of your board, Dr. Deborah Goodwyn, indicated to this newspaper that she was hopeful the 15-18 week process would begin in February. We hope it starts then, too, because anything later than that really wouldn’t give the new superintendent much time to get acclimated before taking the reins this summer.

Come to think of it, in an interview with The Tidewater News regarding her pending retirement, outgoing superintendent Dr. Alvera J. Parrish indicated that her retirement had been planned for several months, even though she was quoted as saying after the December school board meeting that she had not resigned her position. I’m sure you would have appreciated knowing that retirement was in her short-term plans, as it would have allowed for more time to conduct a thorough search.

But that’s another issue for another time.

As a school board, selecting a new superintendent is one of the most significant tasks you have, as the impact of choosing wisely, or poorly, will be felt by the school system for years to come. Just recently, we have all had the chance to see up close what happened to one of our local school systems suffering under poor leadership; plummeting test scores, huge turnover in personnel, poor morale and a deteriorating relationship with the community, just to name a few. We know these failings to be a byproduct of poor leadership because they are symptoms of a culture that is not conducive for success. And workplace culture, no matter how you slice it, is established from the top down. The superintendent establishes workplace culture. Selecting the right one is of the utmost importance.

Like you, we care deeply about the quality of public education in our community and want desperately for our local schools to be the best they can possibly be. So if you don’t mind us sticking our nose into your business for just a minute, we have a few suggestions regarding the selection of the next superintendent.

Please hire someone with experience being a superintendent. No, not someone who’s been an interim superintendent for a year in a struggling school system. Hire someone who has real experience and a verifiable track record, preferably someone from a good school system who’s not trying to bail out of a bad situation. Hire someone who has a history of success, not just someone trying to take the next step up the ladder.

Hire somebody who was a teacher. Not somebody who just put in the required hours on their way to an administration degree, but someone who’s heart, at least at one time, was in the classroom. The world of public education today is overflowing with wannabe administrators, those that want to be the boss of teachers but never wanted to be one themselves. Teaching today is harder than it’s ever been. The professional rigors are more strenuous. The whole culture of testing has virtually eliminated room for a teacher to be creative in the classroom. Kids are more challenging. Their parents are worse. If you haven’t been a teacher, you probably can’t understand those things. You may think you do, but some things must be experienced in order to be understood. If you don’t understand those things, you have no place in a leadership position in public education.

Don’t hire a bully. Morale is important, and teachers need to feel appreciated for being the talented individuals they are, not assembly line workers who can be easily replaced. In recent years, we have witnessed superintendents and administrators in more than one local school system attempt to lead through fear and intimidation. There is no room for that in the workplace, especially a workplace where our children spend their days. When going through the selection process, go back and interview teachers from your candidate’s previous school systems. Interview teachers’ aides. Interview the school nurses. And don’t ask for a list of handpicked references, either; go find out for yourself how this person treated the bus drivers and the cafeteria workers. Do that, and you’ll find out all you need to know about the person you’re considering to be our next superintendent. Catch one bad vibe, then run like hell and don’t think twice.

And there you go. We’re not education experts by any means, but we think those are some pretty sound suggestions to keep in mind when hiring the next superintendent. Like we said earlier, this decision is an important one, one not to be rushed into or taken lightly. So take your time, do your homework and let your conscience be your guide.

Oh, and one last thing; may we suggest looking somewhere else other than Petersburg?