A pair of administrators auditioning for the role of superintendent emphasized their willingness to listen to teachers should they take the reins of Greenwood County School District 50.

Cynthia Ambrose, deputy superintendent of learning services at Charleston County School District, and Eric Thomas, chief turnaround officer for the Georgia State Board of Education, took questions from Greenwood County School District 50 residents, teachers and staff Tuesday night at the Genesis Education Center. Two other candidates — Julie Fowler, chief administrative officer of Abbeville County School District and Steve Glenn, assistant superintendent at Greenwood County School District 52 — will answer questions tonight at Genesis.

Superintendent Darrell Johnson retires June 30, and the four are vying to fill his seat.

“I believe in listening — listening to teachers, listening to people on the front lines,” Ambrose said. “They’re the best developers of curriculum. I have a custom to bring in teams of teachers in the summer that want to do this work, compensating them for doing this work, and constantly revising and refining that curriculum.”

Thomas said the most promising program wouldn’t work if it was not faithfully implemented, something that can’t happen if teachers are not a part of the process.

“The teachers, or whoever supports it, they’re going to do everything humanly possible to make sure it’s successful,” Thomas said. “Here I’ve got all this evidence that says this is the best solution, but if people aren’t a part of that, and they don’t feel invested in that, then you’re not going to execute.”

Thomas and Ambrose were asked about the state law that requires schools to hold back third-graders who are not reading at grade level.

Ambrose disagrees with the law, saying holding students back harms them in the long run. Districts should, instead, identify those students who are struggling with reading and intervene as early as possible so they won’t spend the rest of their lives playing catch-up.

Thomas said meeting goals, including those imposed by the state, is a matter of focus.

“It really is, ‘Is that one of our priorities?’ And if that’s one of our priorities, then we have to align all of our resources ... to address that priority,” Thomas said. “You can’t focus when there’s 12 different things you’re trying to achieve at the same time. If K to 3 literacy is a priority, then let’s make sure an appropriate amount of our resources are aligned to that priority.”

Also discussed was recruitment amid the teacher shortage.

“I think about working conditions, I think about salary, I think about teacher voice,” Ambrose said. “I think teachers will work in a really challenging setting if they have really strong leadership behind them that supports them.”

Thomas said the district should approach teacher recruitment the way Clemson approaches recruitment of athletes: identify and build relationships with the best students in college, regardless of their major. Some might be swayed to pursue a degree in education, and those who do will be more likely to choose District 50 once they graduate, given the relationship built over a yearslong recruitment process.

Contact staff writer Aleks Gilbert at 864-943-5644.