03/22/10 — Survey: What do you want in a new chief of schools?

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Survey: What do you want in a new chief of schools?

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on March 22, 2010 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE -- More than 600 people told the Duplin County Board of Education in a recent staff and communitywide survey what qualities they most want to see in a new school superintendent.

North Carolina Association of School Boards representative Allison Schafer presented the results of the survey at a school board meeting earlier last week. According to Mrs. Schafer, 309 people in the community, and 389 school faculty and staff members completed the anonymous survey.

The survey asked responders to rank 24 statements -- qualities -- from least important to most important. It also provided a space for additional comments.

Both the community and the staff surveys showed a consensus on the most and least important statements, which is unusual, Mrs. Schafer said.

"I do a lot of these, and that's a consistency you don't often see," she said.

Staff and community members ranked "Knows how to get staff, students, parents and community to work together to help children learn" as the most important quality for a new superintendent, with "Understands how to provide safe environments for students and staff" as the second-most important quality.

The respondents ranked "Should continue the current direction of the school system" and "Should spend time in individual classrooms" as among the least important concerns.

Of the community respondents, 169 said they have children attending the school system, while 140 said they do not have children attending Duplin County Schools. Out of the 389 school employees who responded to the survey, 234 were teachers, 115 were support staff and 24 were administrators.

Other highly-ranked statements were "Has strong human relations or 'people' skills," "Understands school finance, budgets and business management" and "Understands how to effectively advocate for resources needed to operate the schools." Accessibility and communication were also major considerations for responders.

Considered less important were spending time in individual classrooms, delegating authority effectively and experience as a successful school superintendent.

More than 150 community members and 160 staff members added their comments. In the public record version provided to the media, the comments were redacted to remove specific names of schools and personnel.

"The new superintendent needs to make sure that the students are priority and that staff members receive the adequate materials and technology to teach all types of learners," one said, while another commented that the superintendent "should be an honest and fair person who listens to the voices of all staff. This person should have integrity and expect the same from all school employees."

Others warned against favoritism and making decisions based on personality, adding that "We need a leader who leads but who is willing to admit problems and help find solutions, not continue to make the mistake of trying to fix a problem without stepping back from the problem."

Many urged that the new superintendent should be from Duplin County, or at the least have experience operating in a similar school system, and should work toward uniting different segments of the community.

"Out staff, our board and our communities are divided. If we continue to operate in this fashion, 10 years from now we will look back and see what a horrible mistake we have made for our children," one person commented.

The staff members adding their own anonymous comments also urged that the new superintendent should have strong ties to Duplin County. "This person must have a vested interest in the future of Duplin County Schools and be willing to go the extra mile to do what is in the best interest of this county," one commented.

Unification was heavily emphasized, with one staff member suggesting the new superintendent "should be a person willing to build consensus which involves all interested partners. This is a leadership position, and should be understood that many members of the community have a vested interest. This includes parents, tax payers and citizens." Another said the community needs a person "who will help the teachers, coaches, staff and students feel like a team or family again."

Strong leadership skills should also be a major consideration, many of the respondents said. "I pray that the leadership of this person is strong, hard working, motivated, fair, honest, trustworthy and extremely effective and beneficial to not only out county, but the state, too," one commented.

After going over the survey results with the school board members, Mrs. Schafer also recorded some of the members' top priorities for the new superintendent. Their comments included response to concerns, dedication to the county, effective delegation of authority, consistency, approach to issues such as dropout rates.

The information will be used to create questions and prepare for the candidate interviews as the NCASB and the Board of Education members enter the next part of the selection process.

The survey results and comments are public record, with copies available to the public.