Superintendent vows more communication
Published 11:00 pm Friday, November 1, 2019
New Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III held the last of his three Meet the Superintendent forums this week, but he vows to continue communicating with division stakeholders as he works through challenges facing the division.
The Oct. 28 forum at King’s Fork High School, like the two previous ones at Nansemond River and Lakeland high schools, outlined Gordon’s vision for the school division as he also took questions from staff and parents.
“We now have to take the feedback that we got from some of our questions and make sure it’s part of our public relations plan,” Gordon said, “and to see about having any common themes that we saw and heard from the group that came to Nansemond River, and the group that came to Lakeland and the group that was here (at King’s Fork). Some of those common themes, we know we have to make those priorities, because it means that it’s citywide.”
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Examples of those are late-running buses, the division’s fine arts program and special education, topics that once again received attention during the King’s Fork forum.
As he told audiences at each of the forums, Gordon has put answers to the questions asked of him on the school division’s website (https://www.spsk12.net/our-division/superintendent-office/meet_the_superintendent_presentation___f_a_qs).
A new topic asked of Gordon concerned English Language Learners and what is planned for those in Suffolk. Gordon said that the division needs to embrace those students and families no matter what English-speaking abilities they come to school with. The division also needs to add more bilingual signs and hire more ELL teachers, though he said that hasn’t yet been determined. He said the division is trying to convince more teachers already in Suffolk Public Schools to become ELL-certified.
Gordon has experience in ELL, as he was in charge of those programs when he worked in both Chesterfield County and in Fredericksburg, and started a multicultural action committee and club while he was a principal at James Monroe High School.
“We have to get our community prepared for the fact that our demographics are changing,” Gordon said. “It’s not just going to be African-Americans or Caucasian students, it can be from anywhere. We also can’t assume that just because they’re English language learners, that they all speak Spanish. We really have to tailor instruction to the needs of the kids, which means that we have to strong professional development and learning for our staff, and also to make sure that the kids are comfortable being a proud member of the Suffolk community.”
On recess, Gordon said first, the school division has to have at least 990 instructional hours, which until two years ago, did not count recess. He said that while the division staff is looking at the amount of time given to recess, Director of Elementary Leadership Pamela Connor has also been looking into ways to get students up and moving during instruction.
“We want to make sure that our kids are having an opportunity to express themselves,” Gordon said.
The new superintendent was also asked about extracurricular activities, especially the fine arts.
Gordon said he is a big believer in those programs.
“If a kid is serious about getting involved in school, that means that extracurricular activities can’t just be sports,” Gordon said. “It has to be band, it has to be orchestra, it has to be chorus, it has to be the arts in general, and then promote and push that.”
He teased “something big” for fine arts that he said he couldn’t reveal just yet. He hopes to release that in January.
“Stay tuned, because we’re going to find a way for kids to do some of those things outside of class,” Gordon said.
Another area Gordon addressed was providing support for teachers. He said he has asked SPS Director of Human Resources Dr. Rodney Brown and Director of Finance Wendy Forsman about ways to increase teacher retention. Gordon said his goal would be for Suffolk to be in the top three to five school divisions for pay in the region, but he is also looking for ways to better support teachers, citing the lack of support as the top reason teachers leave Suffolk.
“We’re looking at every step in the pay scale,” Gordon said. “Why is the pay scale so condensed at certain steps? Why does that happen where one year you get a raise of $1,000 and the next year a raise of $150? So, what can we do to make sure that that step is equal?”
Now that Gordon has visited every school in the division, his next goal is to drop in to a faculty meeting at every school by the end of the year.
“I’m not necessarily saying this is all going to happen right now,” Gordon said. “But I bet you we can work on some steps, right? … Making sure our staff stays here, and they don’t go to Portsmouth, Hampton, Norfolk or Virginia Beach, is so important. And it’s also so important that kids see in their classroom a teacher that was also a Suffolk graduate. That means so much. That proves to the kid they can do it too.”