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Board agrees on job qualifications

The Suffolk School Board agreed on the qualifications a new superintendent should have during a Wednesday meeting.

Board members reviewed the superintendent search survey results, which received 752 responses in all. More than 44 percent of those came from teachers or school employees, and about another 38 percent from parents. Current Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney officially retires Sept. 1.

An overwhelming number of teachers — nearly 72 percent in all — said experience as a principal is important, with 53 percent saying the new hire should have experience as an associate or assistant superintendent. Just over 52 percent of teachers said experience as a superintendent should be a preference, and not a requirement, for Suffolk’s superintendent search.

More than 56 percent of parents responding to the survey said experience as a superintendent is preferred, with another 30 percent saying that should be a requirement. A requirement that the new superintendent should have experience as a principal was the preference of more than 59 percent of parents, and another 49 percent said the new hire should be a Suffolk resident.

Members voted 4-3 in favor of a requirement that a new superintendent have experience as a principal. Karen Jenkins, Lorita Mayo, David Mitnick and Sherri Story voted in favor, with Chairwoman Phyllis Byrum, Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck and Tyron Riddick voting against it.

However, the board agreed unanimously on all the other characteristics it wants to see in a superintendent. It agreed with the majority of parents and teachers who stated their preference of having an experienced superintendent. The board, though, opted not to make that a requirement. The board also voted in favor of making it a preference, and not a requirement, that a new superintendent have experience as an associate or assistant superintendent.

The board also agreed to require the new superintendent to live in the city, if selected. However, it did not put a timeframe on when a new superintendent should become a city resident, if the successful candidate is not already.

School Board Attorney Wendell Waller advised the board that it did not have to include a timeframe. Rather, it could make the residency a requirement, and then engage with the selected candidate when negotiating a contract to figure out how much time would be reasonable.

The board discussed whether to make it a requirement that any school-age children of a hired superintendent be enrolled in Suffolk Public Schools. Waller advised the board not to make that a requirement. He suggested that board members ask candidates that question during the interview process and then take their answers into consideration.

“You could very well, informally, weigh that … but not have that in your formal list of qualifications,” Waller said.

Brooks-Buck said it would be counterintuitive for a superintendent with school-age children to expect trust from the public while their children enrolled in a private school.

The board also voted to support the inclusion of the 86.7-percent on-time graduation rate in the job description.

Other qualifications the board established for its next superintendent include its preference for that person having experience as a central office administrator and its preference that the person have a doctorate.

The board also agreed on specific characteristics in a number of areas that it wants to see in its next superintendent:

  • Leadership and Management Skills — The successful candidate is a team player who is comfortable with shared decision-making, a visionary, creative thinker, and a decisive leader.
  • Personal Characteristics — The successful candidate is a good listener, accessible, consistent, caring, and confident.
  • Board-Superintendent Relations — The successful candidate effectively mediates and accommodates different perspectives, understands difference between policy and administration and acts accordingly, and provides options and recommendations to Board before accepting Board directives.
  • Staff Relations — The successful candidate creates an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, maintains open channels of communication to and from staff, supports staff development activities, encourages professional growth, and sets a good example for staff members.
  • Community Relations — The successful candidate effectively advocates school issues and needs, communicates effectively on both private and public levels, responds to individual concerns in an appropriate manner, and promotes business and community involvement in schools.
  • School Finance — The successful candidate lobbies for school funding on behalf of the school division, develops and explains the rationale for the budget to the board and local officials, and offers creative funding solutions.
  • Areas of Expertise — The successful candidate has expertise in curriculum and instruction, school reform (e.g. strategic planning, total quality management, etc.), budget and finance, school improvement, and student achievement.
  • Candidates must meet the legal requirements to be licensed or be eligible for licensure as a superintendent in Virginia.

Mitnick praised the other board members for their “spirit of cooperation” during their discussions Wednesday. Jenkins said she is excited for what’s to come, and said the board is more than capable of picking the right person for the job.

Vice Chairwoman Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said the board worked well together on agreeing to the characteristics, while Tyron Riddick said the experience has already been a rewarding one, and said this is an opportunity to keep residents involved.

“We are a group of seven individuals, from seven different backgrounds with seven different experience sets, coming together for the common good of moving Suffolk forward in the right direction,” Riddick said. “You’re going to see some bumps, but we’re going to get there.”