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Archived Story

BOE hears results of survey

Published 11:02am Friday, February 1, 2013

Community input and opinions on the new superintendent for the Alexander City schools was shared and discussed at length during a school board work session Thursday.

The Alabama Association of School Boards presented the results of both the online survey as well as the community involvement meetings, both of which were intended to gain insight on what different community groups are looking for in the next superintendent.

Susan Salter, director of leadership development for the AASB, addressed the turnout for the meetings – some in Alexander City had expressed their disappointment in what appeared to be low interest.

“Forty-five people overall is actually a pretty good turnout,” Salter said. “If folks are generally happy and satisfied with your system, you don’t get huge turnouts at these meetings.”

Salter said recurrent topics in the five meetings – with administrators, the general public, public officials, support workers and teachers – included looking for a number of character traits, including being a strong communicator, a visionary, a motivator, passionate about education and able to make tough decisions and stand by them.

“We heard repeatedly ‘We want a leader who’s going to be a good listener,’” Salter said. “The issue of visionary – people talked about (wanting) somebody who can understand what’s coming down from the state and the national level, who can synthesize all these requirements, and still lead us toward an exciting future.”

Salter said input also emphasized search for someone who is energetic, enthusiastic, and eager to be a part of the community as well as a strong disciplinarian and comfortable with diversity.

“There is a need for a leader who can interact with and lead all sorts of folks and also can be that face in the community who can interact with a variety of diverse leaders and diverse needs,” Salter said.

In addition to character traits, Salter expounded on the opinion of the community on skills a future superintendent needed, including financial management skills, teaching experience at multiple levels, instructional skills, supportive of career tech, ability to set high expectations and delegation skills.

When it comes to issues and challenges, participants in the involvement meetings brought up classroom discipline, aging infrastructure, partnership building with businesses and the community, expanding career tech, creative funding and team-building, as well as boosting morale.

“These are scary times – not in this school system exclusively,” Salter said. “We’ve seen employees cut, which raises the remaining employees workload and their fear level … (We need somebody) who can get us all rolling in the same direction but also give us this feeling that we’re a team and we’re all working toward one common, easily-identifiable goal.”

Salter also provided a number of graphs and charts illustrating responses from the online survey, which featured input from 256 respondents – almost half were school employees, 35.9 percent were parents or guardians of students and 15.1 were percent community members.

Respondents were asked to rate a number of items labeled “importance of successful experience in,” in regards to the superintendent’s track record, from 1 to 5, with 5 being very important. Some of the top priorities, which ranked a 4.5 or higher, were

- creating a positive climate for employees

- ensuring safe schools

- increasing student achievement

- leading a well-performing and aggressively improving school system

- monitoring and assessing curriculum and instruction

- keeping the community informed and involved

- working with people in a diverse educational environment

The ratings varied slightly among parents, community members and school employees.

Survey respondents differed on their opinion on from where the superintendent should be hired.

In response to the statement “The superintendent should be from “outside” the Alexander City School System,” 38 percent agreed, 38 percent were neutral, and 25 percent disagreed. Conversely, to the statement “The superintendent should be hired from among existing Alexander City School System employees,” 23 percent agreed, 41 percent were neutral and 37 percent disagreed.

Salter said this was a topic of discussion in the involvement groups, as well.

“There were some folks who felt like if you didn’t hire from within, that it hurt morale – ‘If I want to be a superintendent, and I’m committed to being a part of the Alex City School System for the rest of my career, what’s my future?’ If you’re going to hire from outside, it feels like you’ve put a ceiling and employees can’t go any higher,” Salter said. “Others voiced some concern that if you hire within, you’ve got to be sure you get somebody who’s not going to bring allegiances to a certain constituency group.”

The majority of respondents expressed strong interest in the superintendent having a master’s degree – 85 percent of all respondents. Having a doctorate was necessary to 28 percent of respondents and having business experience appealed to 41 percent.

Survey respondents were also asked to comment on and rank the challenges the new superintendent will face. The top three were

- maintaining and raising achievement

- maintaining culture of trust and accountability

- managing system’s finances to impact achievement

But Salter said an interesting and somewhat confusing response to the statement “The school system is generally headed in the right direction” – 37 percent agreed or strongly agreed, 30 percent were neutral and 32 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

“Your community was split in thirds,” Salter said. “I’m not, in all honesty, sure how you process that information … If I were the new superintendent coming in, I would have a lot of conversation – with my staff, with parents, with community leaders – about what they think we’re doing well and what they think we need to do better because I don’t think you can tell from this.”

Members of the school board will be able to take all of the input under consideration as they move forward – the next step being for the AASB to actually start accepting applications, which begins Feb. 7.

As the superintendent search progresses, the timeline calls for an application deadline of March 20, after which the AASB will screen applicants and select 5–7 final names to present to the Alexander City School Board to interview and choose a superintendent.

“We will contact from the Carolinas to Louisiana – throughout the Southeast,” said Dr. Terry Jenkins with the AASB.

After the AASB presents the school board with a small pool of potential applicants, the board conducts interviews and choose who to hire.

Interviews are slated to be conducted April 15–19. The plan is to have the new superintendent start June 1.

The board members said they got a lot of good information from the results of the survey and community meetings.

“I appreciate everybody who participated,” said President David Sturdivant. “We’ll try to take that information and make the best decision moving forward.”

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