'We need a thinker'

Photo by Tom Wilson
Elizabethton Board of Education members discuss needed criteria for a new director of schools.

City BOE goes heavy on experience for director criteria

By Thomas Wilson
Legendary entertainer Pearl Bailey has written, "To talk to someone who does not listen is enough to tense the devil."
According to a survey ranking strengths for Elizabethton's next director of schools, Elizabethton educators and citizens rate the ability to listen as a top quality.
"From the response of your community, you get someone who is an effective communicator and has the ability to listen," Randall Bennett of the Tennessee School Boards Association, told the Elizabethton Board of Education at a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
TSBA is conducting the Superintendent Search Service for the Elizabethton City Schools' new director. Bennett presented the results of a community-wide survey to the BOE after TSBA held several community meetings in August and distributed a survey to school officials, students and the public asking them to rank the most important qualities a director should have. Criteria preference was ranked by five groups: principals, teachers, central office staff, business and community leaders, and a 13-member community screening committee.
The top 10 proposed criteria included a director eager to listen, a strong communicator who has the ability to initiate change and be an effective spokesperson for the school system's needs, and someone who is not connected to a local political faction. Other necessary criteria were a director who is goal oriented and who has strong and fair problem-solving skills, and a person who is able to work with and generate support from community groups and the entire school board.
Board member Bob Berry felt the top 10 criteria lacked hands-on experience of staff and administrative management critical to the system's next director.
"By looking at this, we are going to have someone who's going to push buttons and doesn't know what they are doing," said Berry. "It doesn't look like in the survey, to me, that we are looking for a person who has all the skills. We need a thinker."
Board members Judy Richardson and Catherine Wooten Armstrong also said skills were absent in the top 10 attributes that should be included in the director's criteria. Armstrong pointed out that principals and teachers ranked a director with classroom and administrative experience highly in their surveys.
"That would be high on my list," she told the board.
Richardson echoed that sentiment and also felt the director criteria should include experience with budgetary affairs and collective bargaining with a teachers' union.
"It (collective bargaining) went so well last year, I want that to continue," said Richardson.
In addition to the 10 standards of the survey, the board voted to add successful experience as a teacher and principal, a strong academic and instruction leader, and the ability to manage a budget and fiscal affairs, as well as collective bargaining experience. Berry also recommended the director's profile have a hybrid criterion of having a skilled evaluator of programs and someone committed to upgrading the system's instructional staff.
The board voted 5-0 to adopt the 10 criteria and the six additional criteria recommended by board members.
The five groups surveyed varied in qualities they found important to a director. Four of the five ranked not being connected to a political faction among their top six qualities. A candidate's experience as a successful superintendent or central office administrator did not make it to the top 15 of any group.
Previous to the vote, board member Dr. Jonathan Bremer noted that survey respondents did not rank a director's sense of humor as being terribly important - an assessment he seemed to disagree with. "They're going to need it," Bremer quipped.
TSBA will shift recruiting process into high gear, targeting potential candidates. A complete search generally takes four to six months from announcement to employment. Past TSBA searches resulted in the system losing previous directors Dr. Judy Blevins and Dr. Dale Lynch to other school systems.
The board voted to utilize the Superintendent Search Service at a cost of $7,500 at their July 28 meeting. According to the search service model, a TSBA consultant conducts an initial meeting with the board to discuss its options and explain the Superintendent Search Service. The search service includes advertising the vacancy, developing an employment contract, scheduling interview dates, providing interview guides for the board, performing background checks, and negotiating the board's contract with the finalist.
After finalists are selected, board of education members are encouraged to visit their places of residence to learn more about the people they are considering to hire. Bennett told the board that salary scale and benefit packages were typically not discussed until TSBA had culled five finalists for the position. Bennett said he would bring the criteria report and TSBA's recruitment plan back to the board at its meeting in October.