Thursday, May 11, 2005

August goal for hiring superintendent


A two-member team assisting with the search for a new city school superintendent drove one point home Thursday evening.

John L. Hartman, executive director emeritus of the Mississippi School Boards Association, and E. Harold Fisher, state director of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Council on Accreditation of School Improvement, said repeatedly they will not hire a new leader for the Holly Springs School District.

“We will bring the board of trustees a list of people who meet their qualifications,” Hartman said. “We’re not going to select the next superintendent. They will do the interviews, and they will select from that list.

“If 10 people meet the qualifications, they will get 10 names, and then they will make the decision about the number of people they want to call in for interviews

“I know this board is committed to getting the very best person for this job.”

An interim superintendent will likely be named with the retirement of Judy Smith at the end of this school year. A target date for the hiring of a new superintendent is August.

A public forum was held at the Multi-Purpose Center for citizens to give input about the characteristics they want in a new superintendent. Both Hartman and Fisher urged forum participants to be positive and look to the future and identify desirable traits of a new superintendent.

They also emphasized that the superintendent is an administrator who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the school district, seeing that the people perform the duties they are assigned and according to policies.

“It is the responsibility of the board to direct the activities of the superintendent,” Hartman said.

Martha Thomas, school board member, said there is a job description in place for the superintendent, and that is the starting point.

“This meeting is to get the other important criteria,” Thomas said.

Mayor Andre’ DeBerry started the list of desirable qualities.

“The person must be able to build good community relationships,” DeBerry said. “They must be able to pull the entire community together. Communication and public relations are so important.”

Fisher agreed.

“The new superintendent must build a bridge between the community and the school and the school and the community,” Fisher said. “That’s vital.”

Paula Clark said the new superintendent must establish a good rapport with the parents.

“The parents should be brought into the educational process of their children,” Clark said. “He or she needs to be able to do all he or she can to involve parents in their students’ education. Parental involvement is a key.”

W.A. McMillan said the school district leader does not need to be a dictator.

“The superintendent must be more democratically oriented – a superintendent with good judgment,” McMillan said. “Superintendents recommend principals, and principals are the key to the education process. The superintendent should avoid micro management period.”

Norman Chapman said the new superintendent needs a sense of security.

“This person will be caught in the middle of passionate people from all sides,” Chapman said. “He must be stable enough to not be influenced by pressure. The new person needs thick skin, lots of self confidence.”

Other important characteristics mentioned in the forum included a person with a proven track record, a creative problem solver, administrative experience, patience and sense of humor. It was also emphasized there should be a list of things that the school district would like to see accomplished – taking the district from here to there.

A question was asked about a possible performance contract.

“A superintendent’s performance in Mississippi is gauged on what the children are learning,” Hartman said. “That’s the way it is in Mississippi now.”

The search will be regional. An announcement about the vacancy will be sent to every school district in the State of Mississippi, and the search will reach to states bordering Mississippi, like Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas. One person has inquired via e-mail even before applications have been prepared, and others have heard about the opening by word of mouth and also expressed interest.

Hartman cautioned not to rush because of a possible target date.

“There may be two or three people at the end of the search, and the board doesn’t feel good about them,” Hartman said. “That means it’s start-over time. There is no reason to pick someone because time is up. We will start over and continue the search.”

DeBerry asked about possibly bringing the finalists into town for a reception, to meet members of the community.

Hartman said he discouraged that process, but that decision would be up to the board.

Hartman said he expects to have the qualifications’ list from the board of trustees within the next 10 days, so the search can proceed full speed ahead. The next superintendent will likely receive a three-year contract.

“We will send out applications and prepare the announcement, and we will review the applications to see if they meet the board’s criteria,” he said. “Then it will be the board’s decision beyond that point. We’re not going to pick someone for you.

“The board’s goal is to find a person who fits Holly Springs – not New Albany, Tupelo or any other community.

“I’ve been working with school boards in this state for 33 years, and I’m convinced that this board is on the right track.”

Hartman retired after 33 years as executive director of the Mississippi School Boards Association.

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