Dr. Vicky Spear DCS Superintendent Interview – 7/21/2015

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Dr. Vicky Spear, left, talks with former Demopolis City Schools Board of Education member Laura Foster following Tuesday’s interview at Rooster Hall.

Dr. Vicky Spear, principal at Vinemont Middle School in Cullman County and adjunct professor at the University of Alabama, interviewed for the Demopolis City Schools superintendent post Tuesday, July 21. The following is an overview of the interview that took place in front of the DCS Board of Education and audience of community members at Rooster Hall Monday.

Q: 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: “I love this question,” Spear said. “Because this is a time I get to say ‘I don’t know’ because you guys are going to have all the information…you know your community and your needs more than I do.”

Noted that she had to trust the board’s decision at this point. Said she would like to be that “one,” but ultimately it was up to the board.

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: Focused on involvement in education as both a teacher and an administrator. Said that knowing when it’s time to listen and when it’s time to act is a result of experience. Noted that while every decision may have not been the right decision, she learned from those experiences.

Again pointed out that the board and the community members know what the system needs and her role would be to listen, collect data, and then act.

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: Referred back to her visit to campuses earlier in the day.

“There are a lot of things going on in this school system. The challenge is to focus on those things that you can move forward with and not be so scattered that everybody is doing something different.”

Noted that collaboration is key. Streamlining of efforts is critical. Identify the outcomes, and then move forward. Said that goals must be formalized so that a plan can be created to act on those desired outcomes.

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: Said that they have struggled with this at her current school.

Again focused on the importance of formally sitting down and deciding where students need to be, where they are, and how to get them to the desired level.

“When you have a clear understanding of what that expectation is, then you provide that professional development for teachers, you listen to teachers…”

Noted that professional development can be as simple as teachers sitting down together as a group to discuss what’s working and what’s not. Also mentioned making sure that the appropriate progress monitoring tools were in place.

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 adjusts to the new governing style that you would bring?

A: “Again, I’m a servant leader.”

Focused on collecting data and really understanding where the system currently stands. Noted that coming in making sudden changes without input is a recipe for failure.

Once data is collected and a plan is created, then comes the time to move forward.

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: Referred back to her experience as Secondary Curriculum Coordinator where she was involved with the CSFO, Federal Programs Director, and the superintendent to leverage the available funds to make sure classrooms were adequately staffed.

Said that having teachers in the classroom was more important that having computers and technology.

Also discussed her time as Federal Programs Director and the ability to create a strategic plan.

Discussed the Demopolis City Schools Foundation and how lucky Demopolis is to have such an incredible foundation.

Noted the importance of “having your community leaders who are here and are involved and who want to help you solve your financial problems.”

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 projects?

A: “As far as managing a construction project, I don’t have that experience. As far as managing big projects with multiple funding sources, I do have that experience.”

Noted that the system has people whose expertise is in this area.

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

A: Noted that there were lots of pieces that needed to be cohesive.

“Everyone must understand the goals of the system and what your part is in achieving those goals.”

Said that student achievement needed to be elevated, just as it does across the country. Indicated that the Aspire test was likely part of the reason for the seeming lack of achievement.

Q: An increase in enrollment is one of our goals. Give us your best 3-minute speech to encourage parents to enroll their children in our system.

A: “If my children were still in school, I’d want them to come to school here, okay? That’s the first thing.”

Noted the following items that “don’t show up in a test score”:

  • community spirit
  • community support
  • career tech/trade programs
  • AP tracks
  • dual enrollment/college partnerships
  • safe and nurturing environment
  • quality of life
  • any student can come into the system and feel safe

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: Mentioned the notion that teachers seem to think that an administrator showing up at their campus carries with it a negative connotation or indicates that something is wrong. Noted that it was a natural response. Discussed how she was able to overcome that notion and opened the door for communication between teachers and administrators.

“I say yes as much as I can, I value your input, and I appreciate what people have to say…I’m not emotionally attached to being right—I’m emotionally attached to getting it right.”

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

A: Focused on the difference in discipline and punishment.

Discipline is what you do every day. Discipline starts with adults in the school, from the central office down to the teachers. Unless teachers are at school on time and prepared, you cannot expect students to do the same.

Punishment is what happens when individuals do not adhere to the rules that are set forth and is done for the students’ benefit.

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: “First of all, as superintendent, I think I’m responsible for every lesson plan every day in our schools.”

Said that principals are often stretched too thin and may need a little help.

“You know, I’m having a hard time with this question because everybody I talked to today was just top notch…I can’t imagine that that’s a problem here, but if it were a problem, I would deal with it in the proper channels.”

Elaborated and said that when someone just needs a little help, there are coaching methods that can be used to help that administrator become more competent including peer evaluation.

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: “The media can make or break you. If we’re doing the right things in our schools, then the good press is going to follow.”

Noted that the biggest advocate for the school system should be the superintendent.

“Everything that’s important that happens in this system or any system starts between the teacher and the student and what happens in that classroom. I think if we do that part right, the rest will follow.”

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: “I just take people at face value.”

“I don’t care how much money they have or how much they don’t have, I don’t care what your race is, what your ethnicity is, when you come into a public school system, you are equal. Period. I welcome the diversity. I think it adds a richness.”

Noted that the community was well represented on the city council and the board of education.

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: Noted the chain of command for disagreements stemming from the school level. Gave the example of a parent having an issue with a coach. The proper channel is for the parent to speak to the coach then principal and resolve the issue at the school level. If no resolution at the school level, then it would escalate to central office.

Regarding a disagreement with a board member, it is crucial to remember that students come first. However, she noted that she is cognizant that the board is the final decision.

Noted that she has seen issues where boards split over issues that did not justify a split and she does not wish to see that.

Each candidate will see the same 15 questions from the DCS Board of Education. Interviews will resume at Rooster Hall Wednesday at 5 p.m. with Kyle Kallhoff.