About 50 people came to Sudduth Elementary School Tuesday night to involve themselves in the process of searching for a new superintendent for the Starkville School District.
Four board members were present for the public hearing. The setting, the multipurpose room at Sudduth, was set up for a much larger crowd. Because of the large facility, all who wanted to participate in the meeting had access, an issue in some recent board meetings.
Board member Pickett Wilson was out of state with extended family.
“The trip was planned long before the hearing was scheduled,” Wilson said Tuesday night.
The meeting began with board member Eric Heiselt presenting an overview of the search process proposed for the district to follow in selecting a new superintendent. His plan calls for a nationwide search and the creation of an executive committee and four sub-committees to create a list of personal and professional qualities they would like to see in an ideal candidate.
After applicants are narrowed down to maybe five candidates, committee members can have one-hour question sessions with each one in meetings open to the public. The plan also calls for candidates to make a public presentation on their vision for the Starkville School District.
A draft of the district”s proposed plan is available at http://www.starkville.k12.ms.us.
The board asked for public input on the proposed search process and for comments on ways to mend the relationship the board has with the public and how it should move forward.
Seventeen people spoke Tuesday on the process. Below are some of their comments:
· Susan Tomlinson — “This should be a search and not a screening.” Said the community must come together and be positive. “We need to set the bar high because our kids deserve it.”
· Brother Rogers — The district has a tradition of excellence, and “to lead our excellent district, we need an excellent leader.” Suggested looking to Mississippi State University alumni, as many graduates desire an opportunity to come back to work. “We can find really good, impressive educational expertise, but I really hope we can find someone who will work well with others.”
· Roy Pollard — Spoke of widespread support in the community for schools in the last bond issues. Said the board needs to narrow the field of applicants and then let the committees interview the top ones.
· Melissa Luckett — Spoke of hope, “to look forward to something with a full expectation of its fulfillment.” Said “children bubble with hope and promise,” and the district must work to achieve that hope for the children. The board”s openness in hosting the meeting was a move in the right direction by “allowing parents to take part in the process.”
· Craig Aarhus — The next superintendent should be invested in the community and “must have a heart of a teacher,” to never forget what it means to be a teacher. “If you get the sense that a candidate doesn”t have this, then I encourage you to move on.” Asked the board not to exclude potential candidates who don”t have terminal degrees. In his experience holding a terminal degree and working with those who have this and those who don”t, he said a doctorate does not reflect a person”s skill at a job.
· Frank Chiles — Was “very pleased with the demeanor I am seeing on this board.” There are many such as himself with grown kids who don”t use the school district but support the schools. “Our economic stability in this community depends on this person being able to come in and pick up the pieces and move forward.” He praised the board”s reorganization of its leadership and said “I think we need to just replace one board member and we”ll have it.”
· Lisa Spencer — “I believe in the Starkville School District. I wouldn”t be employed somewhere I didn”t believe in.” She asked questions primarily about the process of the search.
· Rex Buffington — It is “critically important to involve the teachers in the process” since they have a perspective on the superintendent”s role that the district needs. Wants to see principals involved. “We need a leader who will really push us to go beyond where we”ve gone in the past.”
· Heather Carson — Called transparency and communication essential qualities for the next superintendent. Suggested the district use a written and online survey to collect input on the characteristics of and issues facing the next superintendent, and urged the board to “search and hire in a thoughtful and expeditious manner.”
· Chris Cosper — Is “as optimistic and encouraged” about the Starkville School District as he has been in a long time. Until all students in the district reach their potential, “we have work left to do. To settle for anything less is settling,” and he urged the board not to settle in their search. While expressing concerns about the possibility of different sub-committees favoring different candidates, he said he thought the proposed search process “is generally well thought-out.” He did suggest some members be appointed to sub-committees and the rest randomly chosen among applicants, without being told how they were chosen.
· Lisa Blount — Questioned what happens if different sub-committees disagree on key characteristics of the ideal candidate, and asked who pares down the initial, presumably very large, applicant pool.
· Doug Bedsal — Urged the board to listen to the voice of the community who pays school taxes but may not have a child in the district or be employed in the district. Suggested a mix of appointed and randomly chosen sub-committee members. Asked the board for “as much transparency as possible and for the rest, we”re going to have to trust you.”
· Simone Mackin — Suggested teachers be given an even greater voice in the search process, possibly even forming a sub-commitee of just teachers. “These people have vital information on what works and what doesn”t work.” She that those applying to serve on the sub-committees be given guidelines clearly expressing the demands to be placed on them. She also thanked the board for meeting in a space large enough to accommodate all who wanted to come.
· Kate Fabel — Liked the idea of a survey to gather community input, but expressed concern about having enough time to make this effective. Recommended MSU administrators be involved in the search process.
· Sandy George — Suggested that the board consider including school district administrators other than just principals in the search.
· Amy Aarhus — Spoke of the need of all those in the community to “seize all opportunities to speak of the good things in the district.”
· John Tomlinson — Discussed how the sub-committees should be formed. “I don”t think that anything about this process should be random. It should be calculated.”
The board will meet again at 6 p.m. June 7 at the Greensboro Center for their regular board meeting.