Community, staff weigh in on county superintendent search

Lauren Williams Staff Writer

September 24, 2013

The Sampson County Board of Education learned what the school system’s staff and members of the community want to see in the next superintendent during its meeting Monday night, with understanding how to provide a safe enviroment at the top of the list

Helping the school board with the search is the North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA). Scott Murray, an attorney with the NCSBA, was present at the meeting to share the results of recent community and staff surveys, a method used by NCSBA to gather feedback and to gauge what the school system’s stakeholders feel are the most important skills and qualities for a person to have in the superintendent position.

Noting that both online and hard-copy surveys were taken, Murray reported that 611 community surveys and 344 staff surveys were completed.

“That’s typical, if not a little high, for those numbers so that’s good,” said Murray.

According to information provided by Murray, most of the community members who participated in the survey were parents of students, particularly elementary students. Likewise, teachers, specifically elementary teachers, made up most of the staff who responded to the survey.

Both the community and staff surveys featured 24 statements which participants ranked according to importance.

Murray focused on each group’s top five concerns, pointing out that both the community and the system’s staff share the same number one concern which is that the next superintendent “understands how to provide safe environments for students and staff.”

Following this top concern, the community would also like the new superintendent to be one who “knows how to get staff, students, parents, and community to work together to help children learn,” “communicates well with people of all races and socioeconomic status,” “has ideas and approaches to improve graduation rates and prevent dropouts,” and “has strong human relations or ‘people skills.’”

The school system’s staff is concerned with much of the same, although the order of the rankings varies some, noted Murray, adding that staff also ranked “understands how to effectively advocate for resources needed to operate the schools” high on their priority list.

Murray also highlighted the community and staff’s five lowest concerns, pointing out to school board members that, according to the surveys, both groups are not as concerned with the previous positions (superintendent, principal, teacher) that a person has held nor do they think the next superintendent necessarily needs to come from North Carolina or needs to already have a connection to Sampson County Schools.

As part of the surveys, participants had the opportunity to anonymously submit additional comments or suggestions. The community provided 70 additional comments while the staff offered 79.

Based on information provided by Murray, many of the comments from the community focused on concerns about bullying, fairness, school safety, and having a superintendent who is accessible and a good listener. As for staff comments, many mentioned wanting a superintendent with strong leadership skill as well as one who is supportive of bilingual education, who is a good communicator, who understands education, and who will be an advocate for teachers.

Following his presentation of the survey results, Murray opened the floor to the members wanting to hear from them what they, as school board members, want in a superintendent.

“Some of our criteria is going to fit right in with theirs (the community and staff),” acknowledged board chairman Telfair Simpson, adding that he would also like the system’s next leader to be someone who “supports firm discipline in schools,” a criteria that wasn’t in the staff and community’s top five concerns but did rank in both group’s top 10 concerns.

Simpson noted that someone who “understands school finance, budgets, and business management” is also important and goes hand in hand with the staff’s desire for someone who “understands how to effectively advocate for resources needed to operate the schools.”

While the community, according to their survey, feels the next superintendent “should be accessible and respond to concerns in a timely fashion,” Simpson pointed out that “there’s a chain of command” that the community should pursue with questions and concerns and that “if they (the new superintendent) have strong people skills that kind of goes back to that.”

Board member G. H. Wilson agreed with the community that the next superintendent needs to make improving graduation rates and lowering dropouts a priority while fellow board member Glenn Tart requested that the school board’s criteria include possessing “a real strong vision and support for a STEM high school.”

“That’s going to carry a lot of weight with me,” he stressed.

Following the discussion, Murray informed the school board that the next step in the search process is the NCSBA sending the applications for the superintendent position that they have received to the school board for review along with a rating sheet to assist them as they wade through the applications.

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at