'A proven track record of success': Firm reveals what Sumter community said it wants in next school district superintendent

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 12/5/18

Progressing beyond a two-school district mentality, building on the strength of talented teachers and staff and having a visionary instructional leader were the major priorities identified last week in Sumter School District's search for its next …

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'A proven track record of success': Firm reveals what Sumter community said it wants in next school district superintendent

Posted

Progressing beyond a two-school district mentality, building on the strength of talented teachers and staff and having a visionary instructional leader were the major priorities identified last week in Sumter School District's search for its next superintendent.

B.W.P. and Associates, the outside consulting group assisting the district's Board of Trustees in searching for its next leader, reported its findings to the full board Monday night after conducting a total of 28 interviews, focus groups and community forums last week with about 260 people.

The report also included preliminary survey data from 1,015 online respondents received during a five-day window through Sunday.

A total of 51 percent of those initial respondents were district teachers, staff and administrators. An additional 36 percent were district students, according to survey data. That's 87 percent of the total initial respondents who are people directly in Sumter's public schools day in and day out.

The survey

B.W.P.'s lead consultant, Kevin Castner, said responses occurring more than 50 percent of the time as "attention-getters."

Regarding strengths, 55 percent of respondents noted the district has excellent teachers and staff. An additional 41 percent said the district has strong educational programs and options.

Regarding skills and characteristics needed in the next superintendent, 77 percent highlighted communication skills, and 52 percent also said financial skills. Integrity and good judgment were also important personal characteristics noted in at least 50 percent of completed surveys.

A final survey question that Castner highlighted was experience desired in the next superintendent. A total of 59 percent of respondents said they want a superintendent with a proven record of success.

"That should tell you something," Castner told the board.

Other superintendent experience desired in more than 50 percent of completed surveys included experience as a classroom teacher (57 percent), experience in instruction (56 percent), strategic planning experience (54 percent), experience in a multi-cultural environment (54 percent) and financial experience (51 percent).

Engagement meetings and forums

The B.W.P. team asked similar questions on the district's strengths and desired qualities and characteristics in the next superintendent in interviews with individual board members, focus groups meetings with internal district staff and community leaders - such as local elected officials, the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce, Shaw Air Force Base officials and economic development leaders, among others - and three public community forums last week.

B.W.P. also asked open-ended discussion questions on the district's challenges during the community engagement.

Like the survey, highlighted district strengths included talented teachers, administrators and staff and educational programs and options. Other strengths mentioned from community engagement included strong community support for the schools and the presence of Shaw Air Force Base in the county.

Descriptions used by the community for the next superintendent included a "visionary," a "politically savvy manager who can build relationships and restore trust and accountability in the school district" and a "servant leader."

The leading challenge for the district noted in community engagement was moving progressively beyond the two former districts in the county - Sumter District 2 and Sumter District 17 - and establishing a vision for a truly consolidated district. The two districts were consolidated into one in 2011 by the Sumter County Legislative Delegation. Funding and equity issues were also listed as a challenge, as well as meeting the needs of a diverse district. "Diversity" in the schools and community was listed as both a strength and a challenge from community engagement.

Draft leadership profile

Based on the preliminary survey data and "prominent responses" from engagement meetings and forums, Castner presented a draft leadership profile to the board at the end of the firm's presentation.

That profile description included "an energetic, visionary leader" and someone "who will collaborate with all stakeholders in the community."

It also included "successful superintendent experience in a comparable school system and a doctorate degree are strongly preferred."

Desired qualifications are organized into four areas in the draft profile: instruction, management, communications and personal qualities and leadership attributes.

Castner emphasized the profile is a draft and that the board can alter it as it feels appropriate. The search firm's online survey - accessible from the district's website - will run through Jan. 7, and he said the firm will provide an update on any significant changes in survey results in January.

What's next?

For B.W.P. to move forward in the search process, it said it needs a final, modified - if necessary - leadership profile from the board.

Castner said that finalized profile is what B.W.P. will begin to use as the standard to recruit candidates. The firm said it would like the board to approve a profile soon, with a suggested date of Monday, which is when the board holds its regular monthly board meeting for December at the district office.

Castner said that would allow B.W.P. to stay on its timeline of assisting the board in naming a superintendent by early March and having access to the best pool of candidates in its national search.

Castner and his team of three other associates have a combined 160-plus years of experience in public education and 40-plus years in a superintendent post. Percy Mack and Frank Morgan have superintendent experience in neighboring counties to Sumter.

New board Chairman the Rev. Ralph Canty thanked Castner and his team for their engagement and due diligence. He said the board will study the report and probably make at least some changes.

"As a board, we are going to internalize this report and have a conversation among ourselves when we meet next week," Canty said. "There probably will be some 'cosmotizing' of this profile, some structural changes, maybe. But we are really pleased with the work you have done."