The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 22, 2013

Results of Athens superintendent survey


jean@athensnews-courier.com

ATHENS — Athens City school board members are looking for a new superintendent of schools?

Should they opt for the Clint Eastwood movie type — tall, mean and dusty or the Mary Poppins movie type — firm, kind and gentle?

Some 228 parents, school employees, students and Athens citizens have spoken about what they are looking for in a new leader. They revealed these desires in a recent online survey posted by the search firm helping the school board find a new superintendent.

Generally, respondents want a good listener who is approachable and humble. Someone who can live within the budget but be creative at finding money. Someone who can make tough decisions and withstand opposition but remain flexible. Someone who can expand opportunities for students geared toward the trades and technology.

These are just some of the preferences revealed in the survey, the results of which are available at the Central Office.

School board members have begun the process of looking for a new superintendent to replace Orman Bridges Jr., who will retire in July after 10 years as superintendent and 40 years in education. The board spent $8,500 to hire a research consultant with the Alabama Association of School Boards to help them find viable candidates for the job. This process included an online survey of what the parents, school employees, students and citizens would like to see. Kendy Behrends, former superintendent of Florence City Schools, presented the results of that survey during a work session this week.

A total of 228 people responded to the survey, only two of them students, Behrens said. Ninety-three percent of those respondents answered every question. Here are some general observations from some of the questions asked:

Headed in right direction?

When asked if the school system was headed in the right direction, 58 percent of all respondents agreed while 16 percent disagreed. Forty-two percent fell somewhere in between.

Among school employees, 71 percent agreed the system was headed in the right direction while only 11 percent disagreed.

Among parents, only 48 percent believe the system was headed in the right direction, with 21 percent disagreeing and 32 percent neutral.

New vision?

When asked if the system needed a leader with an entirely new vision, 45 percent of all respondents agreed, while 23 percent disagreed and 32 percent were somewhere in between. The response was even higher among those in the community (those who were not students, parents or employees). More than half — 66 percent — believe the schools need a leader with an entirely new vision. Twelve percent disagreed and 23 percent were neutral.

Inside or out?

Nearly all of the respondents — 95 percent — believe the new person should have administrative and management experience and about half — 49 percent — believe the super should have business experience. When asked if the superintendent should be hired from outside the Athens City School system, 29 percent agreed while 47 percent were neutral. When asked if the board should hire an insider, 16 percent agreed while 54 were neutral.

Most important issues

When asked the most significant issue or challenge facing the new superintendent, respondents listed among the top five:

• Maintaining or raising student achievement — 23.9 percent;

• Maintaining a culture of trust, accountability — 16.9 percent;

• Managing finances so as not to harm (the schools) — 10.8 percent;

• Other — 8.9 percent.

Qualifications

As for qualifications, the survey showed 83 percent of all respondents believe the new superintendent should have a master’s degree. Only 30 percent thought he or she should have a doctorate. When asked if the superintendent should have a non-educational background, nearly three-fourths — 72 percent — disagreed.

When asked if the new superintendent should have prior experience as a superintendent, nearly half of all respondents — 52 percent — were neutral, with 26 percent believing such experience should be a required and 22 percent believing it should not.