GRANITEVILLE — Integrity overwhelmingly is the top “personal characteristic" Aiken County Public Schools' stakeholders are looking for in a new district superintendent, according to a audience survey taken Wednesday at Midland Valley High School.
Discipline and school safety are the most important needs facing the school district, according to the survey.
Aiken County School Board Chairman Keith Liner used a web-based survey application to get public input on what the board should look for when hiring a new superintendent at the hour-long meeting.
Audience members, almost all of whom have lived in the district more than 10 years, chose one of four responses to seven questions. Liner said board members chose the responses based on the board's goals for this year, including discipline and teacher retention and recruitment. District employees took a similar survey, Liner said.
Twenty-nine audience members chose integrity as the most important “personal characteristic" for a school superintendent. Four chose humility, and two each chose responsibility and fairness.
Concerning integrity, one audience member said, “I didn't want to pick communicator, but given what I've heard about what went on with the previous board and superintendent, I think they need to work on that.”
Another said he wants the new superintendent to be local and know the area and people.
“I think it's safe to say that we need someone who is relatively local and definitely, definitely not a Yankee,” he said.
Another disagreed, saying, “I would completely disagree with that. I don't think the person needs to be local. I think we need to do a national search to find the best superintendent in the country to come to Aiken School District, and whether he's a Yankee or not has absolutely no bearing on the situation.”
Responding to both, another audience member said, “We do need to get the best candidate. We just need to make sure we do no overlook great talent that is already here.”
A final responder said, “I hope we would get someone who's open to all people.”
Eighteen audience members chose discipline and school safety as the most important need facing the school district, with 13 choosing employee retention and recruitment; four, facilities; and three, viable curriculum.
Concerning discipline, an audience member said, “I think the school district can help the teachers if the administrators – principals, superintendent – get behind the teachers. Teachers are left behind. They have discipline problems, and, doggone it, some administrators don't nip that in the bud.
“I think there are some legalities that might prevent them from doing that, but if the kid is bad, kick them out, put them in an alternative school – do something. You've got good students who can't learn because of these discipline problems.”
A teacher with 26 years of experience, said young children need to be given opportunities to “get along with others.” Without those early experiences, children's behavior becomes discipline problems.
“Children in 4K and 5K have not been given the opportunity to learn to share through play. I think that is the cause of a lot of discipline problems, especially in the lower grades, and it carries over to the upper grades,” she said.
“We need to let these babies play,” she continued, “and learn how to socialize and learn how read and write along the way. I don't know why we have to push them so far at a young age so we cay say, ooh, they got to level J in first grade. Who cares? What happens if you graduate high school early? You just get to be an adult longer. Come on, people. Stop pushing these children.”
During open comments after the survey results, an audience member said his main concern is “what the actual hiring process is going to be like.”
“I think we had unprecedented progress in academic improvement with our last superintendent. My concern is that we build on that,” he said. “I think we need to look nationwide because students and parents deserve that. I think it needs to be an open process. We need to consider diversity and find the best superintendent available to us.”
The board named King Laurence, who had been district's chief officer of Administration, as the interim superintendent after accepting former superintendent Dr. Sean Alford's resignation in early September.
The board will hold a second public input meeting at 6 p.m. tonight in the cafeteria at Aiken High School.
Responses and comments to other questions are as follows:
Select the most important leadership style for a school superintendent.
• Collaborative Leadership – 27
• Servant Leadership – 9
• Delegated Leadership – 2
• Democratic Leadership – 0
A parent with students in three North Augusta schools said she chose collaborative leadership because of comments she hears from teachers at the schools.
“I hear the same thing from all three: I don't think that I'm being heard,” she said. “I don't think they expect all of their ideas to come to fruition, but I think just having the feeling of being heard and taken seriously will go a long way in teacher retention.”
Select the most important leadership quality for a school superintendent.
• Communicator – 14
• Relationship Builder – 10
• Innovator – 7
• Motivator – 6
Select the most important area of expertise for a school superintendent.
• Curriculum Development and Evaluation – 17
• Communications and Community Engagement - 13
• Human Resources/Personnel Management – 5
• Facilities Management – 0
What do you consider to be the most significant strength of the Aiken County Public School District?
• Viable Curriculum – 16
• Discipline/School Safety – 4
• Facilities – 3
• Employee Retention and Recruitment – 2
What suggestion would you give to the Aiken County School superintendent for the priority of taxpayer dollars?
• Employee Retention and Recruitment – 11
• Facilities/Technology – 9
• School Safety and Security – 5
• Viable Curriculum – 4.