Greenwood County School District 50’s technology and facilities are great. Its administration is opaque.
That’s the majority opinion of the nearly 1,100 respondents to a survey administered by Coleman Lew Canny Bowen, the firm hired by District 50’s board to assist with its search for a new superintendent.
“We’ve done a lot of these surveys across my years of executive search, but I have to tell you, this one had far and away the greatest response of any survey we’ve ever done,” Shana Plott, Coleman Lew’s chief executive officer, told the board Wednesday afternoon. “It’s our understanding that it’s really not possible for one person to go and respond 400 times.”
In addition to surveys, Plott and her colleague, Robin Rogers, interviewed school support staff, teachers, administrators and students, as well as business leaders.
“There is no great misalignment among most groups,” Plott said. “We heard a number of consistent themes throughout that feedback.”
The survey asked respondents to check a box indicating their relationship to the district. Parents and teachers were each responsible for more than a third of responses. Students, other district staff and “other” were responsible for 4, 17.5 and 8 percent of responses, respectively.
Respondents were asked to rank several items on a 1 to 10 scale. They viewed technology most favorably, followed by athletics and facilities.
Transportation, academics and community partnerships were all identified as opportunities for improvement.
“The weakest ranking across the board was access to administration,” Plott said.
The survey also asked three open-ended questions: What’s good about the district? What are its challenges? And what are you looking for in the next superintendent?
The good: An engaged community; the size of the district: it’s not too big, and it’s not too small; strong finances; new or recently renovated facilities; high quality, caring teachers and staff; technology; and a wide array and strong offering of courses.
The bad: Lack of support for teachers, who are constantly asked to do more, with less and teach to the test; poverty and homelessness; violence, gang activity and drugs at school; physical and emotional safety; lack of communication between the district office and schools; lack of transparency from the district office; low test scores and graduation rates; and transportation.
The superintendent: “We heard loudly and consistently this person needs to be student-centered first, teacher-centered second,” Plott said. “But a close second ... it came up time and time again.”
Respondents were clear that the next superintendent should be a full time, visible member of the Greenwood community. The administrator should also be a proactive, transparent communicator, willing to share the good, the bad and the ugly within the district.
Aside from that, respondents wanted someone who could be all things: experienced with rural and urban communities as well as wealthy and low-income student bodies.
In addition to the survey, Plott and Rogers organized meetings and interviewed teachers, students and members of the business community.
“I think there is a bit of an overarching culture of fear of speaking out and whether there could potentially be adverse retribution for speaking honestly,” Plott said. “Some told me that’s been the case for years and years and years across the district.”
Teachers said they are spread thin, tired of teaching to the test and overwhelmed by paperwork, Plott said.
“But I think they’ve got some ideas for ways of working smarter and having greater impact with these kids,” Pott continued. “I think someone who comes in has to do some serious work to restore the trust so that they’ll speak up and offer those ideas.”
Plott said that an incredibly diverse group of students came to the meeting she organized.
“They love these teachers, but they’re worried to death these teachers are spread too thin,” Plott said.
Students did say, however, they feel safer due to a zero-tolerance policy concerning fights. But they would like to see more consistency with regards to student discipline.
“I think there were some perceptions that athletes, kids with IEPs, got a second chance.”
Business leaders have told Plott that District 50 “needs to wrap their brains around, not everybody is destined to get a bachelor’s degree.” They also see opportunity for greater partnership and engagement with the district.
Coleman Lew will use the feedback to create a public-facing position description.
“There will be some superintendents who kind of want to be the head down, in their office (type) and have an assistant, others who are out be the face of the organization,” Plott said. “But my gut tells me based on everything we’ve heard, that’s not the kind of person we’re looking for anyway.”