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County seeks 'communicator' to lead schools

March 14, 2012

Catawba County wants its next school superintendent to have strong communication skills.

That's what community members, and Catawba County Schools staff and principals indicated in a recent survey aimed at identifying important characteristics of CCS superintendent candidates.

"That's No. 1 for me, too," said CCS board member Sherry Butler.

The CCS Board of Education discussed the results of the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA) surveys Wednesday. The board expects to hire a new superintendent by June 30, when current Superintendent Glenn Barger will retire after leading the system since October 2010.

A total of 26 applicants applied to succeed Barger.

"We are thrilled with that. It's a really good number," said Allison Schafer, NCSBA legal counsel and director of policy. "It means you have a lot of reading to do."

CCS board members will now review applicant information and select candidates for interviews. In recent days, the board has reviewed information from the community and staff surveys.

More than 800 people completed the surveys, including 421 CCS staff members, 374 community members and 20 CCS principals. Those surveyed ranked 24 superintendent characteristics on a scale of one to five.

CCS staff members and principals who responded ranked "strong human relations or people skills" as the most important characteristic for superintendent candidates.
 
Community responders — 59.9 percent of which have children in CCS schools —
ranked communication skills third. Members of the community placed the highest importance on an understanding of how to obtain resources for the school system.

In a comments section of the survey, many citizens requested CCS hire a superintendent from outside Catawba County. They also requested the new leader be fair toward students and teachers from all backgrounds and schools in all corners of the county.

Survey responses also revealed that the general public places more importance on principal experience than teaching and superintendent experience.

"I rarely see that," said Schafer, who helps conduct superintendent searches across the state.

On Wednesday, Schafer solicited additional comments from the board to compile a candidate profile that will be used to determine which applicants best fit the CCS superintendent position.

"The finance part, the operations part, that's got a lot to do with morale," said board member Glenn Fulbright. "The higher the morale, the more successful your people will be."

Board members Marilyn McCree and Butler reinforced that they would like a superintendent to be someone who interacts with the community in an effort to continuously improve the school system. Butler added that the top candidate should also understand the changing environment of North Carolina public education, such as the ongoing implementation of new Common Core and Essential Standards curriculum guidelines.

Schafer encouraged CCS board members to read narrative comments submitted with the community surveys.

"I think...the board's priorities mirror the survey," said Joyce Spencer, the board's chairwoman. "These surveys will help develop questions for the (candidate) finalists to follow up with. It's affirming to the board to know the community and staff recognize the importance of certain characteristics for a superintendent."

Money matters
CCS leaders also resolved Wednesday to request the N.C. General Assembly to cap the amount of money districts are required to return to the state as part of ongoing budget cuts.

Barger said Madison County Schools has already submitted a resolution to state lawmakers to keep last year's budget reversions flat, and he said other districts are considering a similar request.

CCS reverted $5 million in funding to the state in the 2011-12 school year.


Barger said the state's two-year budget calls for that number to increase to $5.9 million for the 2012-13 school year.

"That's big for you," he told the school board, adding that the system already appears it will be $1.5 million short in funding for 2012-13.

"Reduce the hurt," said board member David Brittain, who requested the board consider drafting a resolution.

"Yeah, and make it stronger if you can," Fulbright said.

CCS plans to prepare a resolution for approval at its March 26 regular meeting.

Survey results
Catawba County Schools principals and staff members, and members of the community recently provided input on the superintendent search process by completing a N.C. School Boards Association survey. The following are the top five superintendent qualities for each surveyed group,  a collection of selected subsequent responses, and a collection of narrative survey comments.

Community members
1. Understands how to get staff, students, parents and community to work together to help children learn.
2. Knows how to get staff, students, parents and community to work together to help children learn.
3. Has strong human relations or "people" skills.
4. Understands how to provide safe environments for students and staff.
5. Understands school finance, budgets and business management.
12. Has been a successful principal.
15. Has been an effective classroom teacher.
20. Has worked in North Carolina public education.
23. Has been a successful superintendent.
 

Comments

"The most important thing is putting the students first and if the superintendent can do this, then I feel the rest will fall into place."

"Business leadership skills are needed to address the issues schools will be facing."

"Please choose an individual willing to take a look at teachers' effectiveness or lack thereof in classrooms."

 

Catawba County Schools staff members
1. Has strong human relations or "people" skills.
2. Understands how to effectively advocate for resources needed to operate the schools.
3. Understands school finance, budgets and business management.
4. Knows how to get staff, students, parents and community to work together to help children learn.
5. Understands how to provide safe environments for students and staff.
6. Has been an effective classroom teacher.
10. Has been a successful principal.
20. Has worked in North Carolina public education.
22. Has been a successful superintendent.

Comments
"I think it is very important that our next superintendent be from Catawba County."

"I believe that the position should be filled by someone outside the community that will come in fresh with no formed opinions."

"We need someone who empathizes and sympathizes with the fact that school employees are all overworked and underpaid. We need someone who is willing to hold the student just as accountable as the teacher."

Catawba County Schools principals
1. Has strong human relations or "people" skills.
2. Has been a successful principal.
3. Understands how to effectively advocate for resources needed to operate the schools.
4. Should be accessible and respond to concerns in a timely fashion.
5. Understands school finance, budgets and business management.
8. Has worked in North Carolina public education.
10. Has been an effective classroom teacher.
23. Has been a successful superintendent.

Comments
"We need a solid and dependable leader, a rock."

"I hope we are able to find a person that has a strong focus on student growth and success, while also has a definite strength in realizing and remembering that we are working to support people not just numbers."

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