Vision tops list in superintendent search

Published 8:03 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Troy City Schools Board of Education will begin the process of searching for a new superintendent today, a process one member describes as “the most important hire” the board will ever face.

Board members will meet at 4:30 p.m. in a special called meeting, followed by a work session at 5 p.m. And while board members hope to fill quickly the position being vacated by Dr. Linda-Felton Smith on Feb. 28, they also want to be thorough in the recruitment process.

“In my opinion this is the most important hire this school system will ever make,” said Dr. Judson Edwards, vice president of the board.

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Felton-Smith, who has been superintendent since August 2003, will continue to be paid as a consultant with the school district until June 2012, when her three-year contract expires. In announcing her decision to step aside in January, she said doing so now allows the school board the opportunity to hire a new superintendent who will be able to start much-needed capital projects and see them through completion.

“With $15 million in capital funds on the table, the next superintendent should set that vision for the new capital plan, because they will be the one to see it through,” Edwards said, referring to the capital funds being raised through a bond refinancing project. “The way this capital money is spent could shape the future of our school system.”

With projects as varied as a new middle school to an early childhood/preschool center offered for discussion, Edwards said it is critical the board have a superintendent in place with a clear vision and the ability to see the projects through from start to finish.

“And I think we will have a very healthy pool of applicants,” he said.

Just what the board members seek from those applicants is yet to be determined.

For board member Wally Lowery, the most important requirement is simply “vision.”

“Truly, I want the next person to have a vision, a true vision of where our schools need to be and what they need to do in the future,” Lowery said. “Schools are so competitive now, with charter schools; home-schooling; and private schools … You hate to say it, but it’s almost like a business. And we need a leader who approaches it that way.”

Edwards, whose background is in economic development, sees the direct link between schools and business. “I think it’s important for the community to understand … that we have an obligation to the community as a whole because we have taxpayers who invest in the system, whether or not they have children in the system,” he said. “(The public school system) is essentially the most important part of the community when it comes to recruiting new people … to keeping the restaurants full.”

Citing communities such as Auburn and Enterprise, he added: “We should have a school system that draws people to our community.”

Despite the steady loss of enrollment during the past five years – four teaching units, or approximately $320,000 in federal funds were lost in 2010 – and one of the lowest millage rates in the state, Edwards said the district is in strong financial shape. “To see our school system in the shape we’re in financially is just a miracle,” he said. “Our school system is No. 1 in the state for having reserves on hand.”

That, combined with access to Troy University and the strengths of the community, create what he describes as “so many opportunities” for the school system to grow.

“I see so many opportunities, and in many ways we sell ourselves short in our vision of what a school system can be.”