Focus groups look at qualities sought in new Cape superintendent

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When asked to identify weaknesses of the Cape Girardeau School District, one school board member wrote a warning for an incoming superintendent: "Changes are needed -- immediately be ready for changes."

The note is part of a summary of responses of what people are looking for in a new superintendent, released last week by the board.

The results were compiled following a series of focus group sessions conducted by the Missouri School Board Association, hired by the school board to find a replacement for Dr. David Scala, whose contract was terminated Nov. 19.

At the meetings, people were asked to rank qualities in order of importance and were given a space to write comments.

All four subgroups -- the school board, administrators, certified staff and community members -- selected the characteristic of keeping the focus on student success as their No. 1 priority.

The school board's rankings and comments fell heavily on finding someone that is a strong manager, especially in financial matters, is able to select a successful staff and is willing to work with the school board to develop both long and short term goals.

While the board gave no official reason for parting with Scala, the decision came amid a realization that a mistake by the director of finance, Brenda McCowan, resulted in a loss of $700,000 for the district. A superintendent is ultimately responsible for the oversight of a district's finances.

Weaknesses of the district identified by the board included a "financial mess of unknown proportions," "poor administrative support," "public dissatisfaction with school system" and "disciplinary issues at upper levels." The board also listed dropout rates of minorities and continuity among building administrators as weaknesses.

Administrators commented that they don't want a superintendent to "hide things from us." One wrote he or she wants the school board to "get out of their current rate of micromanaging." Several community members echoed this sentiment in their comments.

Teachers said they would like someone visible and approachable and someone who encourages teachers to apply for grants.

Community members had the most to say. Their ranking of characteristics matched the teachers' ranking identically, which also closely matched administrators' rankings.

Community members said they would like to see a superintendent who will unify the district and boost morale, will instill discipline, address the dropout rate, send their own children to school in the district and "communicate honestly and fully -- even it it's not flattering to the school district."

"We need a community leader who will be an advocate for public eduction and motivate the whole town to get behind it," said one.

lbavolek@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123


Ranking results

Focus group members were asked to rank a list of 10 qualities they would look for in a superintendent in order of most important to least important. Here are the results.

School board

1. Keeps the focus on students and their success

2. Expertise and experience in fiscal management

3. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the staff

4. Integrity and high moral standards

5. Experience as an administrator

6. Expertise in curriculum development

7. Expertise in oral and written communications

8. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the board (tie)

8. Be visible and accessible to students, staff, community and board (tie)

9. Ability to build and maintain community relations

Administrators

1. Keeps the focus on students and their success

2. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the staff

3. Integrity and high moral standards

4. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the board

5. Be visible and accessible to students, staff, community and board

6. Ability to build and maintain community relations

7. Experience as an administrator

8. Expertise and experience in fiscal management

9. Expertise in oral and written communications

10. Expertise in curriculum development

Certified staff

1. Keeps the focus on students and their success

2. Integrity and high moral standards

3. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the staff

4. Be visible and accessible to students, staff, community and board

5. Expertise in oral and written communications

6. Ability to build and maintain community relations

7. Experience as an administrator

8. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the board

9. Expertise and experience in fiscal management

10. Expertise in curriculum development

Community

1. Keeps the focus on students and their success

2. Integrity and high moral standards

3. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the staff

4. Be visible and accessible to students, staff, community and board

5. Expertise in oral and written communications

6. Ability to build and maintain community relations

7. Experience as an administrator

8. Ability to provide leadership and work in harmony with the board

9. Expertise and experience in fiscal management

10. Expertise in curriculum development

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