Parents, pastors, teachers and business leaders were among those who added their two cents to a weeks-long public dialogue about what qualities the next superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System should have.
Members of the City-County School Board – who will select the man or woman who will replace Dr. Don Martin after he retires in June – got an earful last Thursday at Carver High School, during the last of four forums held to get the public’s input on the superintendent selection. More than 75 people attended the forum, which was originally scheduled for Jan. 8 but was moved up when many objected that the forum at Carver – the only forum site in a predominantly African American community – was slated after the Jan. 3 application deadline for superintendent applicants. Board members countered that the deadline date was not relevant since they won’t begin to review applications until Jan. 10, but newly-elected School Board Vice Chair John Davenport said the Carver forum date was changed anyway so as to not give the perception that East Winston residents – Davenport’s District 1 constituents – were being left out of the process.
“In terms of community relations, this is going to be a difficult process as it is,” said Davenport. “We need to say ‘yes’ when we can.”
The School Board, with funds donated by the local business community, has hired the North Carolina School Boards Association to help it find the best qualified candidates. Alison Schafer, who heads up the Association’s superintendent search service, was on hand to talk about the search process. After the School Board reviews applications, Board members will interview candidates in February and March and hire a new superintendent by March 26, said Schafer, who said that the School Board will decide who to hire without any help or direction from the Association.
“We don’t have a role in deciding who the board hires,” said Schafer. “We don’t screen candidates. We don’t recommend them to the board. What we do is get them good candidates and good information about who those candidates are.”
Many forum speakers, including a couple at Carver, have asked the School Board to hold another forum once the finalists for the job have been selected in order to let the public question the applicants. Although such a forum was held more than 18 years ago before Martin was hired, Schafer shot down those suggestions.
State law, she said, mandates that candidates’ names be kept private unless the applicant consents to having his or her name made public. She said usually the most qualified candidates – such as those currently employed by another school system – are typically turned-off by having their names made public since it reveals to their current employers that they are job searching.
Diversity and equality were major issues for the racially-diverse group at last week’s forum. Many voiced their disapproval of the School System school choice plan, which ended cross-town busing more than 15 years ago and resulted in a mass exodus of white students from inner-city schools. Critics say that the resegregation has further widened the achievement gap between white and minority students, and inner-city schools lack the kind of financial resources that have been shown to enhance a child’s educational experience.
“I think overall, the issue of equity, transparency and zip code justice have not been met as much as they should’ve been,” said County Commissioner Walter Marshall, a former member of the School Board.
Speaking on behalf of the Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, newly-elected president Willard Bass said as long as some children are falling through the cracks, the school system is failing at its primary mission.
“We’ve always believed in one consistent vision for education: that every child must be provided high quality, well funded, constitutional, diverse education,” said Bass, a minister at Green Street Church.
Speakers representing the business community, like Womble Carlyle Sanridge & Rice partner Betty Quick, urged the School Board to hire a superintendent that will work with local businesses to produce a highly qualified, educated and diverse workforce.
“The business world has now embraced diversity; they understand it’s important,” said Quick. “We seek talented and well educated, diverse employees because we know we are better able to respond to the needs of clients who are diverse when we have a variety of view points and backgrounds when analyzing the problems we face every single day.”
Dave Beveridge, a teacher, said the next superintendent should address increasing classroom sizes and work to build stronger bridges between his or her administration and educators.
“In the last couple years, I’ve come to believe the six words you don’t want to hear as a teacher are:” ‘This is coming from Central Office,’” said Beveridge.
Alfred Harvey, a teacher at Atkins Academic & Technology School, asked his students what they wanted in a superintendent. He told the School Board that their responses included someone with high educational expectations, integrity and skills to engage the community.
Several parents also spoke, including Lindsay Upson, who told the Board that her son faced such a hostile environment at his elementary school that she had to have him transferred to a different school. She hopes that the next superintendent will be supportive of parents going through similar situations.
“The school system is supposed to be a support system,” said Upson, a mother of two. “For many African Americans who are single parents and raising kids on their own, this is their hope.”
The School Board is also receiving public feedback through an online survey at wsfcs.k12.nc.us/Page/66959, which will be up until Jan. 3. Schafer said that the survey – which is available in paper form by calling 336-727-2696 – has already yielded more than 1,500 responses. School Board members say that they will use the input that they have received from residents to formulate their questions for applicants.