All interviews were open to the public, and approximately 50 people attended each interview.
Tonight the board will meet at 6 p.m.. to select the top three candidates and will meet again tomorrow evening to make the final decision of who will be the next superintendent of Webster Parish schools.
Below are summaries of opening statements, questions and answers by candidates Morris Busby and David Phillips.
Morris Busby of Minden, Secondary Supervisor of Webster Parish Schools.
My ambition to get this position goes back a long way. When I was appointed principal of Shongaloo, the superintendent at the time was Jerry Lott, and he asked me if I would be continue with that position until I retired or if I planned on moving up in the system. I told him 'One day I'd like to have your job.' Since that time I have worked to prepare myself for the position. I think that, and the fact that I have lived and worked all over the parish, is a plus.
What is a problem you have encountered in your career and how did you resolve it?
I feel a major problem not only in our system but all over the state and nation is the drop-out rate. To address that issue I have attended conferences and seminars to gain ideas on how to address it, and bring those ideas back home.
How would you energize the community to unite behind the public school system?
I would continue to do things as I have done in the past. For instance, when we merged the north Webster schools this year, we brought the kids together by bringing in a speaker to talk to students representatives, and we let them work out their new mascots and new colors.
I have also spoken at Saint Rest (Baptist Church) to high school students about what they needed to know about graduation, and I will be speaking to a younger group later on. I also think it is important to make yourself visible at ball games and other school events. Another idea is to have a Wal-Mart Saturday type deal, where you set a booth and make yourself available.
How do you feel about performance-based contracts?
I think there are some positives and some negatives (for teacher-based contracts). In some districts it is such a negative that people resort to being dishonest. But if you can weigh and measure goals fairly and accurately it can be effective. As far as performance-based contract for the superintendent, that is perfectly fine and acceptable for that position.
If the school system is a cooperation, describe the chain of command and the company's mission statement.
The public would be at the top, followed by the board, because the public elects the board members and they would be likened to the board of directors. Then the superintendent would act much like a CEO and the supervisors can central office administrator would act as vice presidents and you would go on down the line. Our end product would be our students' education. Our goal would be to deliver the best product. The class of 2024 started school this year and it is our job to make sure those students are prepared for a global work force when they leave us.
If you were to make a recommendation to the board and the board did not adopt your recommendation, would that affect your performance?
It is my understanding that the board has the authority to reject any recommendation that is presented to them. I would hope that if a recommendation is not acceptable, we could discuss what you didn't like about it, so that I could go out and make those changes and come back with a recommendation you will accept.
How would you deal with tenured teachers who are waiting to retire and have a poor attitude?
You always want to try to improve the teacher through professional growth plans. You have to observe multiple times and by multiple people. If the professional growth plan doesn't work and you have met all the other obligations under the law, then you can pursue removing that teacher.
What do you perceive as being the top strengths of our school system and what areas need attention?
Employee morale and enthusiasm need work and we can't use money as an incentive, which is why it is so important to use encouragement to show appreciation and work hard to go the extra mile to say thank you. Test scores are another area; we are not as low as some, but we are not where we need to be.
Our parent involvement is a big plus, but it could be even better. Some of our PTOs are kind of small, and we could do a better job of reaching out to parents. It is intimidating for some parents to come up to a place of education, especially if the parent is not as educated as they would like to be; we need to make sure those parents know they are welcome and their help and input are valued.
Discipline is overall a positive, but it gets real close to the negative at times. I think security is a positive.
If you become superintendent how will you handle your wife working under you (as Elementary Supervisor)?
There is no legal reason why she would lose her position. The nepotism laws allow spouses who are currently employed with a school system to both remain employed if one is moved to a higher position. However, if my daughter wanted to come teach in the parish she could not, because she is not currently employed here.
As far as the working environment, even now when at work we address each other as Mr and Mrs. Busby. We may have things we have to deal with at home, but it stays at home. There have also been comments saying two people in the same house shouldn't be allowed to have the salaries from the school board, because they make too much money.
The way I look at it is we are both qualified and you wouldn't go to Dr. Phillips and say one of them has to stop practicing medicine because they make too much money.
David Phillips of Denham Springs, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction East Baton Rouge Parish School System.
I would like to talk to you all about who I am, where I come from and that type of thing, because I think it is important. I have four sisters, and I like girls. I had to growing up in order to survive. I have three children and three grandkids. I used to be an Eagle Scout, and I like traveling, reading and learning. I had a pretty negative attitude while I was in school of how my teachers treated me. Perception is reality and I perceived, and when I got into education I promised I would never treat a student the way I perceive I was treated while in school.
I believe everyone can learn – all kids, adults and superintendents. I believe in developing the whole person and that you can't make excuses. There is no 'kinda' anything. You either are or you're not. I also believe there is no room for arrogance in this business.
It has to be about 'whatever it takes' because the kids deserve it. I tell people that I am not your boss, I am your co-worker. We should all have the same goal, and it should always be about the students.
People will do what a boss tells them to because they have to; people will do what a leader tells them to because they want to and they believe in it.
I don't think you can teach kids until you know them. Because I was a student with a poor attitude about education, I understand students who are like that. I think that has helped me close the achievement gap and is one of my unique abilities.
I have faced challenges such as at Lee High School where 80 percent of the kids were below the poverty line. Overnight we had an additional 250 kids enroll at our school when Katrina hit and the schools were still successful.
What is a problem you have encountered and how did you resolve it?
In East Baton Rouge Parish, which has an enrollment of 43,000, problems are the normal for us. On the first day of school this year we found that a new program we started, 8**th** Period, had been scheduled for after-school hours. We intended to provide this to all students. But it wouldn't work the way we wanted to if we scheduled it for after school hours. How many students would stay for the program when they could go home? It is tough getting the kids to school, much less trying to make them stay afterward.
So we had to reschedule all students and classes to include an additional period and get each student a schedule before school starts. Now each kids will have the benefit of the 8**th** hour program and be able to leave school on time to catch a bus or be picked up.*
How would you energize the community to unite behind the public school system?
There will always be some who are negative about any change you make. Then there are others who get behind change and support it from the get-go. Those in the middle take a wait and see approach and need to see results before they get on board. What you have to do to unite those groups is get involved in the community and work out strategic plans with the stake holders.
You have to engage parents, students and anyone else who is or wants to have input. You have to bring everyone to the table. It is so important to sit and have an open, honest, transparent conversation. Sometimes you end up making a decision and it wasn't the right one. If you went through that process and it really was open and transparent, and you continue to be open and transparent, people will continue to work with you to change what didn't work.
How do you feel about performance-based contracts?
I have been a part of Trail Blazers training and the New Teacher Project.
What came out of that was we discussed new ways to recruit and retain qualified teachers and the 'value added process' or performance-based contracts that evaluate teachers. When you implement something like that, you have to be sure to have safeguards in place to protect teachers from things that are out of their control. For instance, a teacher's score will not include students who move into their classroom or move out of their classroom during the school year. Only students'scores who started and ended with the same teacher are used to evaluate the teacher.
As far as the superintendent, I think I should absolutely be held accountable. It is my responsibility and I would expect it.
If the school system is a corporate structure, what is the corporate structure and the mission statement of the company?
The mission statement is to educate and graduate prepared kids. Hopefully, we have trained them well enough for a variety of opportunities when they graduate. It is not fair to send kids to vocational schools and community colleges unprepared.
In this business, we work for the kids. It may be corny but it is true. The kids drive the corporation. All others come after them. Surely teachers are important, and the behind-the-scenes positions who work for little pay that keep the schools moving like janitors and food workers and paras. Then school administrators, then central office and the superintendent and board. But it has to start with the kids.
What led you to aspire to be superintendent of Webster Parish Schools?
My superintendent asked me if I would be interested in the position and suggested I apply if I was. Others called or emailed me to ask if I would be applying. I came home and spoke with my wife about it.
She prayed about it and woke up the next morning and said she would support me and is behind all of it. I'm just tickled to death to be here. Applying for this is a natural progression for me. I would have never thought I would be applying to be a superintendent, especially with my negative attitude while I was in school; but I am and it feels good.
Can a guy from Baton Rouge, a big city, work in a rural school setting?
To make a move here, would be like coming back to where I started. I know how to do rural. With my experience in Zachary – I will have no problem with the rural setting. I'm applying here because I feel like this is where I am supposed to be.
How would you foster communication with the board?
There is always phone and email and you have to use those regularly. I would want to start a weekly recap, maybe a mailed letter or email, where things that have gone on in the past week – good and bad – are communicated to you.
I think it is also important to be available to the board. I have to block out time on my schedule to say – this is for Jerry Lott because he had a question or this hour or two is for Johnnye Kennon because she has concerns about schools in her district. Or this time slot in the morning is for coffee or lunch with this board member so we can just talk about things in general.
How do you feel about the requirements for minimum academic standards for student athletes?
I am completely in favor of it and I think we have to be. I was a band director for many years and equate myself to a coach in many ways. You just have to make academics first. I have heard people say that if the kids didn't have football or art or their choice of activity that the kids wouldn't come to school. But we cannot let it be that way.
I know of a student who was recruited by another public school to play football. In order to get around the minimum academic requirements, the school suggested he be placed in special education classes.
The parent agreed to it and the kids was happy about it because he got to be a football star. But then graduation came, and how do you think he and his parents felt when he could not get a diploma? That student cannot go to college and does not have a diploma. But he was a high school foot ball star.
We are asking kids to maintain a 2.0 and what is that really? It isn't unachievable and I would like to see it higher. It has to be about academics because our kids need it.
What would be your priority to get acclimated to the area? How soon could you be here?
I brought with me a copy for each board member of my 90-day plan. It focuses on making myself available, study your system, and on organization. I could be here yesterday. I am ready. My supervisors know I am here and we feel comfortable in the people working in East Baton Rouge to continue on without me.
How would you deal with tenured teachers who are waiting for retirement, whose teaching methods are lazy and who have a poor attitude?
It all revolves around data. When I see data that reflects badly on a teacher or principal, I call a conference and we work to fix the problem.
You give support and put a plan in motion that should resolve the issue. If the plan doesn't bear fruit in two to three weeks, you develop a more in-depth and detailed plan. If there is still no fruit in five to six weeks, we terminate. We want to get employees out if they are hurting kids.
(Following the interviews of Morris Busby and David Phillips, all five applicants answered six questions that were submitted by those attending the public forum. The majority of the answers each applicant gave to the public questions were very similar, with some slight variances.)