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Residents offer input on new schools chief

By Kim Walter

More than 250 teachers, parents and school staff members responded to a recent survey covering the qualifications of a new superintendent for Shenandoah County Public Schools.

County residents were able to rank their top priorities when it comes to a new division leader in the areas of education and training, leadership, personal characteristics, relationships skills and school finance.

The survey also included two open-ended questions asking what one talent or skill a new superintendent should have to do the job well, and what issue that person should deal with first.

School Board Chairman Gary Rutz announced that he was pleased with the number of responses the survey generated during the board's meeting last week. He said the results have been sent to the Virginia School Board Association, which often helps select candidates for consideration.

According to the results, almost 76 percent of those surveyed required that a superintendent have experience as a principal, while only 52.8 percent preferred that he or she have experience as a superintendent.

Additionally, 66 percent of participants said it wasn't important if the new superintendent had experience as a leader outside of a school district. Almost 45 percent required that the person live in the school division.

Survey takers were asked to rank their top three priorities for a superintendent. Out of all those, the most desired priorities include being a decisive leader, a visionary and creative thinker, and a team player who is comfortable with shared decision making.

As for personal characteristics, participants voted in favor of a good listener who is accessible, someone who is consistent, and someone who is caring.

Staff relations ranked high in priorities as well, with 116 survey takers saying they want a superintendent who creates an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. Community relations were also important -- 157 participants want someone who effectively advocates school issues and needs, and 68 people hope for a leader who inspires community confidence.

In the portion of the survey where residents were able to leave comments, a majority of them mentioned how important communication is to the success of a school division.

"Transparency, no hidden agendas, effective communication," wrote one person on July 16.

Some just stuck with a one word answer: "Communicator," "Communication," and "Approachability."

Participants also want to see someone who can make good decisions, based on his or her true opinion.

"An effective superintendent is not easily swayed by anyone. He/She considers all data, makes a decision, and upholds that decision," one person commented.

While many stated their hope for a "people person," or someone who will "represent the county well," several participants asked for a superintendent who was not from the area.

"The superintendent should NOT be from within the school system. It needs to be someone with a new and fresh point of view ... someone who will become immersed in our community," wrote one person.

Another said the new leader should at least be familiar with "the type of county we are."

A majority of commenters seem to be ready for change.

"The new supt. must have the ability to bring new ideas to the county. We are stagnating in a morass of tradition and small-minded thinking. We need an emphasis on instruction to learn, not instruction to pass the test. We have forgotten that learning is the objective of school, not testing," wrote a participant on July 7. "Education is bigger than testing yet it seems testing in the only concern."

Many of those surveyed asked that the new superintendent first deal with budget and finance issues, like staff salaries and construction to allow for more space in the division's elementary schools.

Several comments mentioned "trimming the fat" by consolidating some jobs in the central office and schools.

Morale was another issue that often came up, and commenters asked that the new superintendent find a way to improve it. They also listed overcrowding, building conditions and raising academic standards as top issues needing attention.

To view the results, click on the survey link on the division website at www.shenandoah.k12.va.us.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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