By Abby Paterson and Brooklyn Toney--Eagle Staff Writers
In a county whose biggest employer is the school system, the new superintendent is a topic of interest - and not just for school employees. Many across the county are invested in the school system, and so a survey was sent out to community members, including teachers, parents/guardians, residents, business owners, and more to determine what Franklin County wanted most in their new superintendent. The school board has gathered the results in order to gauge what the county wants, and the answer is: a lot.
One of the greatest points of contention was the new superintendent’s nativity; some want a county resident who is an involved community member, while others want an unbiased third party with no ties to specific segments of the county.
The argument for a Franklin County native often boiled down to understanding the community and what works here. “A native will understand our county dynamics and the wide variety of students/families in our schools,” one anonymous responder wrote.
“They need to be familiar with our county and what our needs are here,” commented one anonymous teacher. “I’m concerned that they will bring somebody in from outside of Franklin County because they feel like we need to shake things up,” they added.
Other respondents believe that the superintendent should be from out-of-county to provide a new perspective. “This way they have a new start and no favoritism is shown from within our school system. I think this would allow a fresh new set of eyes on our division and hopefully bring about new ideas to help our division prosper,” another survey response said.
Another anonymous teacher had a different perspective. “I prefer the most qualified person regardless of where they are from,” they commented. “Location should not give nor bar someone from a job they are best qualified for.”
Although there is debate on whether the best superintendent would be from in or out of Franklin County, everyone seemed to agree that the new superintendent has to play an active role in the school system that they govern. Two unnamed teachers both attested to this.
“They’re not just here when it’s just a big thing... they walk around the hallways,” the first said, describing their hopes for a new superintendent.
“Dr. Cobbs has a deep love for and dedication to our students,” they said. “I want all future superintendents to have that same care for our students. I am hopeful that the person who takes on her role will continue to perform to the best they are able in the service to our children.”
Many survey respondents shared the same sentiment. “I think that being in the classroom and working behind the scenes in the school system is important,” one said. “It would be hard to lead if you’ve never been on the other side of it.”
Some of those who are, in fact, on the other side of it shared their frustrations with the school system right now as well.
An anonymous community member stated, “Franklin County needs to be more progressive and pay teachers in accordance with the neighboring cities and counties.”
“Students should be receiving high quality education and access to programs similar to those in Northern Virginia and Richmond with whom our high school students are competing for college admissions and employment,” explained a commenter with similar views.
The community has contrasting views on the character traits that they want the new superintendent to have. Comments ranged from a facetious “Master juggler” to more serious comments like, “ Someone who can exhibit grace under pressure - someone with resilience who will not seek conflict, but will not avoid it.”
Applications for the position of superintendent ended on March 10th. School Board Chairman Jeff Worley is one of the people helping to find a new superintendent. Worley stated, “ The entire board will be conducting interviews, as this is the hire that, by law, we are required to make for our division.” He then went on to say, “Our survey gave us some good insight into what the public wants from our next superintendent. Public opinion helped us a great deal. This is not only the leader of our school division, but will undoubtedly be a big part of the Franklin County community as a whole. We know that the people in our community want an engaged, experienced leader and that is what we are looking for as well.”
The new superintendent will take office on July 1st, but the selection committee hopes to introduce them sooner than that.
The majority of survey respondents, school personnel, and school board members seem to agree that the primary job of the new superintendent is to improve the Franklin County school system as a whole. As one responder put it, their hope for a new superintendent includes a “vision for the future of Franklin County Public Schools as a high-quality school division in its teaching and learning practices.”
Other respondents were already looking toward that future and shared ideas for the future of the county schools that they hope the new superintendent will implement. Both the highly discussed new Career and Technical Education (CTE) building and the special education programs throughout the district were mentioned in survey responses. Within all of these requests, survey respondents shared hopes for someone who listens to the concerns of their subordinates.
It’s time to move forward and meet the needs of the students and Franklin County community,” wrote one.
Another concluded, “We are not numbers on a spreadsheet, we are people. Our thoughts count, our lives count, and what we’re going to be as humans and as individuals is more important than what we’re going to do academically."