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Lessons learned as districts across the state hire new superintendents

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  • At least 22 of the 115 school districts across North Carolina will have a new superintendent in the next school year. Find out which districts they are, and what their new leaders have to say.
  • Superintendent @DrDanaAyers took over as superintendent of Jackson County School last year. Read her five tips to new superintendents.

Highlights

  • At least 22 of our 115 school districts across North Carolina will have a new superintendent in the next school year.
  • A national survey of superintendents in 2020 found that the work is hard and the challenges are unique, but superintendents still reported high levels of job satisfaction.
  • A first-year superintendent offers five lessons learned to other superintendents.

This article is being updated as we receive more information.


Back in August 2021, on her second day with students, I stopped by to visit with Superintendent Dana Ayers in Jackson County. With historic flooding ripping through the region, it was anything but a normal day at the office.

Hanging from this drawing in her office, Ayers has all of her badges for the different jobs along the way to her first superintendency. Each journey to district leadership takes twists and turns along the way.

Here are her top five takeaways from her first year as a superintendent:

5: Engage in your community

I attend events for Special Olympics, events with the Jackson County Sheriffs Office and the Sylva Police Department, faith-based organizations, and fundraisers/games for the local little league. Engaging with your community benefits students and staff at all our schools. 

4: Connect with staff across the district and superintendents across the state

I call them my Superintendent’s Advisory Panel. They become your “grassroots” people and will share school information. This will give credence to you as a leader as you listen to a myriad of voices who share thoughts and ideas.

Connect with colleagues across the state. I participated in the Aspiring Superintendent Cohort and the Next Generation Superintendent Cohort. I built relationships with peers who became my “go-to” people when I have questions about various topics or simply wanted to bounce ideas off someone. I use Dr. Jack Hoke (executive director of the North Carolina School Superintendents Association) to float ideas/thoughts that will impact my staff and students. NCSSA and Jack are valuable resources to me. 

3: Build strong relationships with members of your Board of Education

I communicate with my BoE with a weekly summary of activities and other pertinent information. Most impactful has been the ongoing text communication I have with all of them. There is rarely a day that passes that I don’t text with my BoE. Likewise, I include the BoE on invitations to school events. In fact, my principals send the BoE members a list of upcoming events happening so that they feel engaged and welcomed when they come to school events. 

2: Over communicate!

Nobody will ever feel that they know too much about what is happening in schools. I create and send a monthly staff newsletter highlighting our staff, giving information, and sharing thoughts. As a new superintendent last summer, I hosted three “Meet the Super” events where teachers, families, students, and the community could come out and meet or talk with me. These were very powerful and fell back to my desire to be visible to all. I also write a monthly article for the local newspaper while also inviting the local newspapers to district and school events. I make district phone calls to families and share widely on our social media sites (Twitter is my #1). I also communicate with our county commissioners as they are enormously generous to Jackson County Public Schools. Make sure all stakeholders are well-informed. 

1: Be visible in your schools

My goal as a superintendent is to visit every school every week. I have nine schools and eight campuses, and I made this goal nearly 95% of the year. There is nothing more powerful than being seen and interacting with staff. Learn people’s names and visit classrooms each time you visit a school. 

“The work is difficult”

At the end of the last academic year, EdNC reported that 18 districts were hiring new superintendents.

The national School Superintendents Association (AASA) publishes a “State of the Superintendency” decennial study. In 2020, superintendents across the country indicated that these are the most consuming issues: school finance, personnel management, conflict management, and superintendent/board relations.

“The work is difficult, the hours are long, and the job comes with unique challenges and difficulties,” the study found. “Still, superintendents come back to work, reporting high levels of job satisfaction.”

Since Jan. 1, 2022, according to Jack Hoke, at least 22 more districts in North Carolina are searching for new superintendents. Here is what we know…

Districts where the superintendent has been named

Alamance-Burlington School System

Dr. Dain Butler will start July 1. Butler is an Alamance County native. He previously served as superintendent in Roanoke Rapids. “This is my home,” he says. “Our most important role as a school district is to grow Alamance County’s next generation of well-prepared leaders and engaged citizens.”

Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools

Dr. Keith Parker will start July 1. Parker started out as a social studies teacher in Edgecombe County Public Schools before becoming the principal of Martin Millennium Academy, the first global K-8 public school in eastern North Carolina. He currently serves as assistant superintendent of Dare County Schools.

Parker says, “I am so excited for the opportunity to serve as superintendent and work in partnership with the ECPS community. Our young people have incredible hopes and dreams for their futures. They are creative, optimistic, and they dream big about how they can change the world. I believe in a possible future for our kids — a future where transformed schools work for all of them. I know that by working together we can build extraordinary schools.”

Greene County Schools

Dr. Frank Creech will start July 1. Creech was a high school teacher in Johnston County before becoming an assistant principal and principal in Wake County. He worked as a transformation coach for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in Greene County from 2011 to 2014.  Since then, he has served the Greene County Schools as chief academic officer and then assistant superintendent. In 2020, he was awarded the Sam Houston Leadership Award by the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association.

“I am honored that the Greene County Board of Education selected me to be the next Superintendent of Greene County Schools,” Creech says. “I look forward to working alongside our educators, students, families and community as we build on successful practices and strive for even better outcomes. Great things are happening in our schools!”

Henderson County Public Schools

Mark Garrett will start July 1. Garrett is currently the superintendent of McDowell County Schools, where he has served since 2013. He has been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent in districts in Tennessee and North Carolina.

“I am humbled and excited for the opportunity to serve the students, staff, and families of Henderson County Public Schools,” Garrett says. “Working together, we will build on the district’s tradition of excellence and propel HCPS to even greater heights by being student-centered, mission driven, and future focused. My family and I look forward to joining such an outstanding school district and the Henderson County community.”

Hyde County Schools

Dr. Melanie Shaver will start July 1. Shaver is the visionary leader of Foothills Community School, a middle grades, project-based learning, STEM-focused magnet school in McDowell County that has received state and national recognition. She has been teacher and principal of the year and served as an instructional coach.

She is already learning her way around Hyde County. Shaver says, “It is a privilege to be chosen to serve as Hyde County’s Superintendent of Schools. Hyde County is a wonderfully unique area that has a rich history. I look forward to honoring Hyde County’s past as we work together for a vibrant future.”

https://mobile.twitter.com/TheDrShaver/status/1524079774917931010

Roanoke Rapids Graded School District

Julie Thompson was sworn in as superintendent on March 1 after serving as interim superintendent. A teacher and assistant principal, Thompson served as the district’s chief academic officer from 2017-2021. She is the first graduate of N.C. State’s Educational Leadership Acadmey (NELA) to become a superintendent. She anticipates completing her doctorate of education in educational policy, planning, and leadership in K-12 administration in May 2023.

Thompson says, “I love the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District and its staff, students, families, board of trustees and community, and I am thrilled and honored to be able to serve as superintendent. It is a joy to lead alongside dedicated individuals who have chosen this noble profession and are truly invested in our students and our community. I’m proud of the work our RRGSD team does together to build opportunities and foster community for our students and their families, which we are highlighting with our new hashtag #TogetherWeSucceed.”

Rockingham County Schools

John Stover III will start July 1. Stover is the instructional superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Prior to that, he served as superintendent and managing
director of Uplift Education’s charter school district in Dallas, Texas. His North Carolina experience includes serving in classrooms and schools in Hertford County Schools, Roanoke
Rapids Graded School District, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Alamance-Burlington
School System, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Stover says, “I am excited to partner with the school board, parents, and the community to build upon the work our dedicated teachers, administrators, and staff have done to create a school system that empowers each child to be a life-long learner, equipped to contribute in a changing, complex society.”

Warren County Schools

Keith Sutton was sworn in as superintendent on January 1 after serving as interim superintendent. Sutton previously served and chaired the Wake County Board of Education.

Sutton says, “Together, we’ll work to ensure our students and staff have access to the resources they need to effectively teach and learn. When teachers and students are successful, our entire community benefits, making it that much easier for future teachers and students to build on that success.”

Districts in the process of hiring a superintendent

The following districts are in the process of hiring a superintendent, with start dates varying according to the hiring process:

  • Asheville City Schools
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 
  • Cherokee County Schools
  • Guilford County Schools
  • Hertford County Schools
  • Martin County Schools
  • McDowell County Public Schools
  • Moore County Schools
  • Mooresville Graded Schools
  • Northampton County Schools
  • Rowan-Salisbury Schools
  • Thomasville City Schools
  • Tyrrell County Schools
  • Weldon City Schools

Hoke says the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association supports, provides leadership training for, and advocates for superintendents. Newly hired superintendents have the opportunity to attend six days of professional development entitled “Superintendent Executive Leadership Development,” delivered by FranklinCovey along with veteran superintendents from across North Carolina.

“It is important for the superintendents to develop a network of superintendents in their region and statewide,” says Hoke. “The networks they develop are helpful for problem solving, conversations regarding innovation, and having a cohort of superintendents to call.”

If you know of other superintendents on the way out or on the way in, please let me know on Twitter @Mebane_ Rash.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.