Dr. Donald R. McPherson DCS Superintendent Interview – 7/23/2015

Dr. Donald R. McPherson talks with community members following a public interview at Rooster Hall on Thursday, July 23. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

Dr. Donald R. McPherson talks with community members following a public interview at Rooster Hall on Thursday, July 23. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

Dr. Donald R. McPherson, superintendent of Coffee County Schools, interviewed for the Demopolis City Schools superintendent post Thursday, July 23. The following is an overview of the interview that took place before the DCS board of education and a near capacity audience at Rooster Hall.

Please give us a snapshot of your professional experiences and your belief in public education. We have five finalists for this position; convince us that you should be the one. 

A: Prior to his current position, he was Federal Programs Director with Cullman County Schools; 21st Century Director with Lawrence County Schools; assistant principal in Blount County; math teacher in Arab City, and a coach.

“I love working with young people.”

“Public education is a staple in my life,” he said. “It truly is the great equalizer.”

He said he is very upbeat and positive, collaborative and a good listener.

“I’m going to do what’s best for children.”

He said he has the experience in K-12 schools and the background to be a good superintendent for Demopolis.

Q: A superintendent has to have tremendous passion, belief and commitment. How do you know when it is time to act and when it is time to listen and learn? How have you balanced collaboration while maintaining your leadership role?

A: “I am always going to listen.”

“You’ve got to be passionate in everything you do.”

He would set leadership teams in the schools, the central office and in the community.

He would seek all viewpoints before taking any action.

Q: Please describe what you think the role of superintendent is as it relates to successfully engaging our staff, students, families and community toward a common vision and successful outcome. 

A: “Sometimes you’re the cheerleader. You’re sometimes the one who’s carrying the banner. Sometimes you’re the bearer of bad news. Sometimes you’re the reality check.”

In all cases the superintendent must have compassion.

Q: High performing students and closing the achievement gap are priorities for Demopolis City Schools. What leadership and guidance would you provide to ensure that these expectations are properly evaluated and adjusted for all students?

A: The system must determine what it needs in order to improve.

Gather the data and then work through teachers and administrators.

“First of all they need to believe they need to improve.”

Have continuing student assessment with check-points to make corrections when needed.

Q: When a new superintendent is hired, the transition should be as smooth as possible. How would you help both the educational community and the community at-large adjust to the new governing style that you would bring?

A: “I’m going to be visible” by attending events, becoming involved and having an open-door policy.

“A lot of times I’m just going to look.”

Must build trust before the community can understand why change is needed.

Q: As you know, school districts across the state face financial constraints due to the economy and funding issues. How have you been involved with budget development and ongoing fiscal management in the past? 

A: Coffee County has a $21 million budget. He maximizes federal dollars.

He has an extensive background in preparing budgets on all levels.

He always asks, “What’s the return on investment?” That doesn’t always mean money, but how it will benefit the student.

Q: We are looking to expand partnerships with Shelton State, UWA and local businesses. We will need a facility for this project and major renovations will be necessary. What are your experiences in dealing with construction and budget issues on large project?

A: As Coffee County superintendent he has overseen a $2.5 million school renovation projects, hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades and a $1.8 million baseball/softball complex.

Must be involved in all aspects of the project and bring in leadership teams, parents and others who have a vested interest in the facility.

Necessary to plan ahead to prevent problems.

Q: Based on what you know about our school system, what do you think is the greatest potential for improvement?

A: “I see everybody ready for ‘go’. I see everybody wants to achieve greatness.”

Q: An increase in enrollment is one of our goals. Give us your best 2-minute speech to encourage parents to enroll their children in our school system. 

A: “You’ve got a wonderful town. You’ve also got a great school system.”

“What can we do for you individually?” How can the school system work specifically with each child to make him the best person he can be?

Q: All employees appreciate being valued and respected. What is your plan for boosting and keeping morale up while requiring high expectations of everyone?

A: He would talk to people and be willing to listen, be visible, involved and have an open-door policy.

“Everybody has a part to play.”

Sometimes corrective action is needed.

Q: Our district has a code of conduct. Describe your ability to cultivate a disciplined, safe and orderly school environment. 

A: Schools must first be clean and safe. Then there should be discipline, and students should know and understand the rules. Only then can teaching begin and learning be possible.

Q: You have identified an administrator that needs improvement. What process would you use to improve the competence of that person and what corrective actions would you take? 

A: The administrator needs to understand there is a problem. Working with that person, he would come up with corrective action and then monitor progress.

Q: The Demopolis City Schools Foundation, the Demopolis PTO, the media and the community at-large play a vital role in the support of our schools. Describe what your relationship would be in continuing this tradition.

A: “They’re all much needed.”

“I’ll give everybody my cell phone number.”

“What everyone does is so important. They play a vital role in this system.”

Doesn’t want negative press.

Would be truthful, upright.

Q: Demopolis is a diverse community. As a new superintendent, what steps would you take to ensure that all groups are fully engaged and treated equally?

A: “You get involved. You ask questions.”

Give credit where credit is due.

Q: How would you handle a situation if a group or individual came to you with strong differing opinions concerning grades, punishment, athletics, etc.? Along with that, you have a respectful disagreement with a board member on a specific issue. How would you proceed?

A: In the first case, listen, determine who best to handle the situation and go through the chain of command.

“Every parent is passionate about their child.”

He puts “a lot of thought and prayer into a decision” and then sticks to it. He asks himself how he would decide if his own child was involved in the situation.”

“At the end of the day, we’re married,” he said of the board. “I want a 5-0 (vote) every time.” He won’t put anything before the board that won’t pass.

Superintendent interviews conclude Friday at 5 p.m. at Rooster Hall with Dr. Tena “Elisabeth” Davis, current director of curriculum and instruction with the Pelham City School System.