Public has its say at first forum
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board received community input last Thursday as it works to hire a superintendent to replace retiring Don Martin.
The first of several public forums designed to give residents input into the search process was held at Southwest Elementary School in Clemmons. The forum drew about 50 attendees from around the county with diverse concerns. The separation of church and state in schools, the superintendent’s salary and diversity training in the school system were among the issues raised.
“I do hear around the community that we know who we’re going to select, that we have a favorite person, that Dr. Martin will select the next superintendent,” said School Board Chair Lambeth, “and I can tell you with 100 percent positive assurance, we do not know who the next superintendent will be, we do not have a favorite candidate, we do not have a favorite person. This is a very open process and we’re going to select the best person we can find.”
Attendees voiced a wish-list of qualities that they would like to see in the school system’s next superintendent.
Mary Dickinson, a retired public school teacher and well-known Democratic Party volunteer, drew applause when she said she hoped the new superintendent would deal with the issue of school re-segregation. One-race schools have been common in the system since the School Board adopted a community schools policy more than 13 years ago.
“I hope that your new superintendent will be very sensitive to the diversity of this county and also will take a proactive effort for better school equity,” said Dickinson. “The schools in this county are completely segregated in every way.”
[pullquote]“I hope that your new superintendent will be very sensitive to the diversity of this county and also will take a proactive effort for better school equity,” said Dickinson. “The schools in this county are completely segregated in every way.”[/pullquote]Patricia Sadler was there representing her employer, the Winston-Salem Urban League. She said that the next superintendent should possess the tools to relate to all of those that the school system serves.
“We sincerely hope that you will select a candidate who has demonstrated cultural competency and has experience managing a diverse school population,” said Sadler, who said that more attention needs to be paid to the county’s graduation rate, the disproportionate amount of expulsions and suspensions doled out to some students and the inequalities in equipment and resources at non-Suburban schools.
Eric Martin, a retired school system textbook coordinator, wants Martin’s successor to work harder to bridge the performance gap between schools.
“The next superintendent, I hope, will have the latitude and the ability to look at our schools that aren’t performing due to socio-economics and come up with a way to bring those kids up,” he said.
German Garcia, president of the Forsyth Hispanic Democrats, said that he hoped the next superintendent would be sensitive to both students and parents who are learning English as their second language. Ike Howard, president of the Carver High School Alumni Association, suggested that the School Board hold public forums featuring the finalists for the job, in order to let them answer questions from the public.
At this point, it appears unlikely that Howard’s suggestion will become reality. School Board Vice Chair Jane Goins, who has been on the school board for 27 years, said that such forums for finalists were held when the Board hired Martin more than 18 years ago, but there are no plans to hold the forums this time around.
The North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA), which the Board hired to assist in the search, has suggested keeping the names of the candidates private and not holding a public Q&As with finalists. NCSBA, which has helped with over 100 superintendent searches in the state, said it makes those recommendations as to not discourage current superintendents who want to apply for the job but do not want their current school systems to know that they are job-hunting.
Goins too insisted that the comments at the public forums, and public opinions being gauged via an online survey, will play an important role in the extensive search.
“Anytime we get public input on any issue, we take it very seriously and this is the most serious of all,” she said.
Board Member Elisabeth Motsinger said she was glad to see so much good input from the community at the forum.
“The community wants very much the same thing I want, which is a superintendent that is sensitive to the whole community, that is going to take seriously making sure all children’s needs are met and is going to make sure we’re really raising our standards for everyone,” said Motsinger.
Martin is retiring in June 2013. The School Board has set a Jan. 3 application deadline for candidates.
The last two superintendent forums will be held Dec. 13 at East Forsyth High School, 2500 W. Mountain St. in Kernersville, and Jan. 8 at Carver High School, 3545 Carver School Road. Both will be at 6 p.m. The survey is available online at wsfcs.k12.nc.us/Page/66959 or by calling 336-727-2696.