Few speak at superintendent search hearing

Published 4:10 pm Thursday, February 16, 2017

Only one person attended the Franklin City School Board’s public hearing on desired qualifications for the division’s new superintendent, which resulted in the board voting unanimously to continue the hearing during the regular scheduled meeting on Thursday.

Despite the lack of in-person comments, the board still discussed the results of the paper and online surveys they had created on Feb. 6 and compiled a tentative list of qualifications to send to the Virginia School Board Association.

The single speaker during the public hearing was Howie Soucek, who said that for him, the most important criterion the board should seek in a new superintendent is a proven ability to earn the trust and respect of important public education stakeholders, including classroom teachers, parents and the business community.

“A candidate who lacks actual experience as a school system superintendent but who has verifiably demonstrated a collaborative organizational style and a form of leadership that garners trust and respect will be far superior to a candidate with all the usual impressive, traditional ‘credentials’ but who lacks the above criterion.

“We have been troubled long enough by a series of highly-credentialed individuals in this vital position — individuals who came on strong with impressive talk, demeanor and a good show at the start, but who later settle into a command-and-control style of management, which silences and isolates teachers, and offers only lip-service to meaningful information shared with, as well as involvement from, the community.”

A total of 88 people responded to the print and online surveys, 68 of which used the comments section to voice their opinions on the board’s superintendent search. Of these, 12 indicated they would prefer someone with a financial background, 12 felt that trust and confidence in that person and community involvement were key priorities, and 11 felt it was very important that the new superintendent be able to attract and retain qualified staff.

Several responders also indicated they wanted the new superintendent to find ways to give staff raises, and one responder suggested the new superintendent should “weed out the uninspired and mediocre teachers.”

Other criteria that survey results indicated were priorities included having the successful candidate be a visionary, creative thinker and decisive leader (53.6 percent of responders); have a strong writing and speaking ability (46 percent); understand differences between policy and administration, and act accordingly (62 percent); and assume a lead role while keeping the board informed (46 percent.)

The board also discussed what specific experience they should look for in a superintendent, ultimately deciding to list a doctorate, residency in Franklin, teaching experience at public schools in Virginia, and experience as a principal as preferred rather than required.

“There’s a lot of schools looking for superintendents and some of them are much larger and can pay more so you don’t want to limit yourself [with required criteria],” said at-large school board representative Ron Rusnak, adding that if residency was required, a candidate could get around that requirement by renting an apartment in Franklin and still spend less than half his or her time in the city.

“The whole point is community involvement whether or not you live in the city,” said board Chairman Bob Holt.

“You definitely want the superintendent to have a vested interest in the school and in the community,” added Vice Chairwoman Dr. Andrea Hall-Leonard. “And saying we would like to have a superintendent with experience in Virginia helps us with the SOLs (Standards of Learning assessments) and memorandum of understanding, because we still have a corrective action plan.”

Ward two representative Amy Phillips said that she wants someone who wants to be here, rather than someone who was looking to use the position as a stepping stone in his or her career.

The school board will submit its decision on qualifications to the VSBA on Thursday, but will amend them at a later date if they receive substantially different feedback during the continuation of their public hearing at their regular scheduled meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of city hall.