Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

First three superintendent applicants questioned

Three of six applicants for the position of Superintendent of Webster Parish schools were interviewed last night. During the approximately one hour-long interview per applicant, each school board member was given an opportunity to ask a question.

The remaining time was spent by the board fielding additional questions, which were also similar to each candidate.

The process will continue Friday when the final three applicants are interviewed.

The interviews are open to the public. Responses to some of the questions asked are as follows:

Steve_Dozier_mug_colorSteve Dozier of Ruston, Superintendent of Union Schools

What is a problem you have encountered in your career and how did you resolve it?

"Our biggest problem in Union Parish, as in many parishes, is we are broke. There are money and budget issues. We have to look very carefully to save money without hurting kids. We are a smaller district than Webster Parish, so the way we were able to save focuses more on moving supervisors out, dissolve administrator positions. With any tough problem, you just have to make the best decision you can."

How would you energize the community to unite behind the public school system?

"We have to show where our schools are good. In my experience this can be done with education fairs where you present what is going on in the parish. Someone on staff has to be responsible for getting the good news out. If you don't tell the good, no one will. Another key is getting people involved in volunteer programs."

How do you feel about performance-based contracts?

I don't think anyone likes to be held to the fire; I know I wouldn't like it too much, but I can live with it (performance-based contracts) if it (goal) is obtainable.

Why leave your position in Union Parish?

I have been there four years, and they are in a good academic situation. I'd like to move to this position to have an opportunity to work in a larger district. Why would I not be interested, is my question to you. I'm ready for this challenge."

If you were to make a recommendation to the board and the board did not adopt your recommendation, would that affect your performance?

My job is to give you what I feel is a good recommendation. Your job is to decide if you can live with it. I don't expect for us to agree 100 percent of the time.

Describe the transition from Texas to Louisiana.

"My parents are from Farmerville, and I grew up there before moving to Texas where I was raised in Houston. My wife is Puerto Rican and I was able to move to Puerto Rico with a position for Department of Defense schools. After that, I was able to start a DOD school in Guam. My parents became ill and passed away, and that is what brought me back to Texas, where I retired. I then took a position in Union and my son went to Louisiana Tech."

If you are our final candidate, do you plan on relocating to Webster Parish or commuting to Ruston?

"As a superintendent, you have to be involved in your community. I feel I could do so while living outside the parish, but I would consider moving if it was a show-stopper."

If parents found questionable material in reading assignments that they felt was not appropriate, based on their christian beliefs, and as superintendent the complaint's made it to you, how would you handle the situation?

"That's tough. I would have to look at the material and whether it is religious, or especially if it is guiding in nature. You have to consider the separation of church and state, and may need to get the attorney involved. The material may be pulled if it crosses the separation of church and state boundary. If it does not, the material stays.

How would you deal with tenured teachers who are waiting to retire and have a poor attitude?

"Get them out. You can't do it over night, but you can get them out, and I have and I will. You have to follow protocol by doing your walk-through and write-ups and put the teacher on a growth plan. You owe it to the kids to do it."

As a nation, Math and Science scores are dropping and are no longer a major contender in education globally as we once were. As an educator, how do we improve?

"In my experience, family structure in other countries makes children study. We are getting a bit lackadaisical. For us to get back up, we need to look at what the students and teachers are not getting and provide it. We need to teach what they don't know, and we need to train teachers to deliver."

Out of six qualified applicants, what makes you uniquely qualified?

"I'm handsome. Plus, I have experience as a successful superintendent. Everywhere I have been, I have been successful. That's 35 years of successful experience. Not one year 35 times."

What are your hobbies?

Golf, motorcycles, salt water aquariums, wood working, anything that gets me out of the usual office scene and allows me to sweat, usually that's working in the garage.

How would you approach visiting "my side of the track?"

I'll go over there if you invite me for church dinner. I go where ever the food is. My wife is Puerto Rican, and she can cook good Puerto Rican food, but not soul food. In all seriousness, it just isn't an issue. I'll go whereever I need to go to foster community support."

What is the biggest cause of failing schools in your experience?

I inherited a low performing school in Union, and I found that the community supports the school. They will do anything you ask them to if it helps the kids and the school. I found that the instruction was mostly out-of-the-book instruction. The read a discuss method is the least effective. You have to teach kids what they don't know and you have to train your staff."

Jackie_on_PacificJackie Sharp of Minden, Assistant Superintendent of Webster Parish Schools

How would you energize the community to unite behind the public school system?

I think we are more energized than someone might think. If you attended the Back to School Bashes in Springhill and Minden you know the community supports us. I think we can improve in some areas such as the Web site, make it more user friendly, easier to find information and updated with current information.

I think we need to encourage our principals to share good news with the community and media. We are very lucky to have local radio and community newspapers. If you give them the information they are happy to report it, you just have to let them know what is going on.

I think a regular letter from the superintendent to parish residents would be a good way to let parents and tax payers know what is going on. Also, in the past we had representation on the chamber of commerce. I think that would be a great think to start doing again.

How do you feel about performance-based contracts?

I'm willing to look into it, but I would need to be very confident the goals set are achievable and clear. I would not want the contracts designed so there were safeguards, without doing those things first, I don't think it would be best.

When making a recommendation to the board, how would you react if the board did not adopt your recommendation?

I might pout for a second; no one likes being told no. There are times when I find I have been wrong and sometimes it is hard to admit that, but I do and often find there is a better way or something I didn't think of. If I gave up or got upset every time something didn't go my way, I would have left my job a long time ago.

How would you respond to parents who felt a reading assignment went against their Christian beliefs?

We have handled a situation like that before. We always want the situation to be resolved by the teacher, principal, supervisor and the last resort is the superintendent. If a situation like you describe made it to my desk, I will stand by what we have done in the past. We do not make students read a book a parent has a strong objection to. The teacher can assign a new book of equal length and difficulty.

How would you deal with tenured teachers who are waiting for retirement, whos teaching methods are lazy and who have a poor attitude?

This is not a problem unique to our parish or education. Even in industry you have those soon-to-be-retiring workers who seem to be waiting it out. The first goal is to improve the teacher's performance by offering assistance. It shouldn't be about getting rid of them, but about making sure the principal is monitoring them, and following protocol to get them the help they need.

How will you communicate to people "on the other side of the track?"

I am very active in my own church and have represented Webster schools on the chamber of commerce. I do not have any problem speaking to any group, no matter where they are located. I have always been greeted warmly when visiting other churches. I just don't see it as a problem."

What uniquely qualifies you for this position?

I have worked in a number of positions in this parish for many years. I have developed relationships with the faculty and supervisors of the schools, as well as those outside our parish. I feel that the position of superintendent is a combination of a manager and a leader. I am extremely organized; it has always been one of my strengths and I have held leadership positions with this school system for many years.

What would you do to restore trust between the board and the community?

I'm so glad you asked that, because one of the first things I want to do is work to restore the trust between the public and our public schools. It is not a one-man job; we are all going to have to work together. We have gone through a very hard year and summer. There will always be nit-pickers and naysayers, but we have to remain polite and calm. We cannot tackle education until we restore trust.

Kevin_WashingtonKevin Washington of Springhill, Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance for Webster Parish

Opening Statement:

I would like to present myself to serve the students of Webster Parish. I feel all students can learn, given the right environment. I am a product of the Webster Parish School system and had the opportunity to attend school where my father was principal. Growing up, I was not always the most motivated student, and that gives me an understanding and the motivation to inspire students. This is not an opportunity for Kevin; I look at this as an opportunity for the students of Webster Parish.

What is a problem you have encountered and what did you do to resolve it?

Whenever you make decisions, someone will not be satisfied. That is where you have to be able to stand on the policies in place, hold your ground and maintain the integrity of the school system. When you use the policy, you can balance protecting students, teachers, and the system. You have to look past those who are upset with your decision, because there will always be some who are unhappy.

How would you energize the community to stand behind our public schools?

Community outreaches need to be a continuous process. You have to make yourself available. I would like to see more after-hours availability, especially to working parents. When there is a choice between working to put food on the table or meet with a teacher, parents will choose to work, because they have to. We talk a lot about the online parent center, but if a parent is working to put food on the table, Internet is just not an option for some working parents. We need to manage our resources to make Internet available after hours to our students and our parents.

How do you feel about performance-based contracts?

It could be a good thing. I would want input from the entire staff. I would want to talk about what are fair and equitable goals. I would want community input on this as well. When you change something like this you have to remember these decisions affect children who belong to somebody."

What creative approaches can you bring to the position of superintendent?

I would like to realign some of our resources; get a good look at what we have and think of new ways we can utilize them. I would also like to see a community liaison added to the central office – not a new hire, but an addition of responsibilities. Someone in charge of reporting good things that are happening and communicating that to the public. I also think it is important to know the heart of the people of all ethnic diversities.

Your position with the WPSB is to resolve controversy. What have you learned about yourself through your experiences in that role?

I have learned you must be a careful listener. If you cannot take the time to listen, you can not be a good administrator. When you listen, it doesn't mean you give them the answer they want. But when you show someone respect and listen, really listen to what they are saying, people feel better about being told no when they feel you understand them.

I have also learned that when leaning on policy to guide decisions, you have to balance that with reality. The students we guide, they are a part of families, they belong to someone.

I have also learned that you can't ever take it personal. If I don't get the position, I will go back to work and continue to be passionate about the students of Webster Parish. When someone makes negative remarks, I know it isn't personal, that person is upset.

I have learned I have no tolerance for people who don't have passion for students and education. If you don't want to be here, I do not understand why you're here, because this is a child, a member of someone's family, that we are guiding and educating."

If parents complained to you as superintendent, about a book their child was assigned to read, that it was against their Christian faith, how would you respond?

I would lean heavily on two people, our curriculum personnel and our textbook personnel. I would ask if this is acceptable reading material, weigh the law and rights, and lean heavily on policy that is currently in place.

How would you handle tenured teachers who bring poor teaching methods and poor attitudes with them to work as they wait to retire?

"I would say if you don't write it down, it didn't happen. You always seek to improve personnel and follow policy. If there is such a teacher, I have to ask myself do I want them teaching my child, who is in the Webster Parish school system? No, and if I don't want them teaching my child, I don't want them in the classroom. You have to follow policy and hold people accountable.

Is being a 'people person' a requirement of a superintendent?

It depends on what you mean by 'people person.' You need to communicate well and get along with others, but it doesn't mean you're going to give people what they want all the time.

Have you ever handled a budget?

While principal of Union Elementary I handled a typical budget of a school, and I think I did so effectively. But I have not had the opportunity to work with a budget for an entire system.

What is the biggest discipline problem in Webster Parish right now?

It goes back to parental support. We have kids who come to us not ready to learn. They come with no respect for educators and in light of that we have to prepare educators on how to handle respect issues. We work on it from both ends student and teacher, and try and get parent's educated about respect as well.

Can you remain unbiased to schools, no matter what has gone one in the past?

You have to dust yourself off when you disagree and set about the business of educating students. You cannot be bias in this business or you fail the system and the students. As I said before, decisions made by the board are not taken personally, and they can't be.

(Editor's note: All three candidates were asked if they would like to give an opening statement. Only Washington chose to give a prepared statement. The final three candidates will be questioned Friday. Their interviews will appear in Monday's edition of the Minden Press-Herald.)

 

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