FRONT ROYAL - The next superintendent for Warren County Public Schools should listen to division employees, remain visible and focus on education, according to recent community survey results.
The Warren County School Board held a special meeting Saturday to receive and consider approving the application the system would use to vet potential candidates for superintendent. J. David Martin and Roger Collins represent Real Synergy Limited Liability Company, the consulting firm hired by the School Board to conduct the search for a new superintendent. Martin and Collins are retired school division superintendents who also teach at James Madison University.
Board members voted to approve the application after discussing the proposed set of documents and hearing from Martin and Collins about the results of surveys conducted as part of the search. Members then continued the discussion in closed session because, as Martin explained, some people interviewed in person suggested potential candidates for the job by name, which the board must consider.
School system administrators, teachers and students, members of the Board of Supervisors, the School Board and the School Board office provided input on a profile for a superintendent candidate. The consultants conducted 120 face-to-face interviews with the respondents to the questionnaire. The profile questionnaire asked respondents to describe the positive attributes and challenges facing Warren County Public Schools; and the characteristics, skills or knowledge the next superintendent should possess. The questionnaire also asked each respondent if he or she knew of anyone who would fit the characteristics and attributes described.
Martin spoke about some of the in-person responses to the questions of challenges facing the division.
“We heard some things about student behavior and discipline, more so about maybe consistency across the board,” Martin said.
Interviewees also noted the importance of education to parents, which might tie back to attendance, Martin said. He used, as an example, an instance where a parent lets a child stay home for no other reason than he or she is not ready for school.
Interviewees also mentioned the ongoing situation with the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, which has been involved in civil and criminal matters related to investigations into embezzlement and mismanagement of money within the agency. The previous superintendent, L. Greg Drescher, who retired effective Jan. 1, had served for years on the EDA Board of Directors and then as its chairman before he resigned. Some people in the community raised concerns about Drescher’s serving both as the division superintendent and the EDA board chairman.
“Again, special education popped up and then we did hear about the EDA situation and some mistrust,” Martin said.
Interviewees also told Martin that a superintendent should maintain his or her focus on the division.
“This was stated a couple of times in very different ways given the past,” Martin said. “They’d like a superintendent that keeps the schools first, meaning - one person said to me (the superintendent) can be involved in civic organizations; just don’t let them hold an office.
“But we want them involved in the community but the leadership should be reserved for the school system,” Martin added.
Characteristics that ranked highest according to the profile responses: communication and listening skills, classroom and administration experience, visibility, experience in special education, honesty and integrity. Challenges that ranked highest included the system’s ability to keep employees, student attendance, special education, pay scales, student behavior and discipline, and funding and resources. Sense of community, the division’s size and the system’s facilities ranked high as positive attributes.
“Here’s the good news: Warren County’s still small,” Martin said. “It’s still a family atmosphere.
“People we talked with feel good about what you’re doing with kids overall,” Martin added. “The facilities here are remarkable.”
The consultants also asked interviewees what advice they would give a superintendent.
“So the overwhelming response was ‘gain feedback from employees,’” Martin said. “They want somebody that will listen and I don’t think indicative of any past administrators. I just think they want their voices heard as they move forward that they want somebody that will listen to them.”
The consultants also conducted an online survey that asked respondents for information about themselves and more specific questions about the characteristics the next superintendent should have and their importance. The consultants also presented the results of this survey.
Martin and the School Board then discussed the application. At one point, members and Martin considered whether or not to mention in the application that a successful candidate would need to live in Warren County. The board could require that a successful candidate become a county resident within a certain time from the date of hire, Martin said. The board could discuss a residency requirement with a candidate during the contract negotiation, he added.
The consultants expect to receive applications through the March 20 deadline. The School Board plans to hold a special meeting in early April to review the applications and develop questions for two rounds of interviews. The School Board expects to announce its choice at a special meeting in April or May.
Board Chairman Arnold M. Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine R. Bower and members Ralph A. Rinaldi, James S. Wells and Kristen J. Pence attended the meeting.