Public wants many things from its new school superintendent

As the search for Howard County's next superintendent progresses, the public is putting together a wish list of the qualities they want in their next school leader.

Ray and Associates, the search firm hired to find the new superintendent, this week conducted several input sessions with community groups and fielded surveys from citizens. High on the wish list for Superintendent Sydney Cousin's replacement is a person who is collaborative, accessible and a good communicator. Howard County, several said, wants a visionary.

"(The superintendent) is one who motivates the staff, and the staff is responsible for motivating the students," said Irma Wiley, a paraeducator at Clarksville Middle School. "It's not about just getting them to learn, it's about getting them to think critically. It starts at the superintendent … we need someone well-versed in what the school system needs."

Cousin, who has served as superintendent since 2004 and who has been with the school system for more than 30 years, announced his retirement earlier this year, effective June 30, 2012.

Bill Newman, national director with Ray and Associates, said the ultimate goal of the search is to find a superintendent whose term lasts as long as Cousin's, and a person who is as beloved. He said he was expecting no fewer than 50 applicants from across the country as the search process gets under way later this month.

The firm scheduled two evenings of open public input, and several days of meetings with community groups — nonprofits and educational groups, among others — to gather input. The firm also conducted an online survey, scheduled to conclude Thursday, Dec. 8.

Jim Oglesby, regional director for the firm, will present a summary of the meetings, and of the public's wish list, to the board on Wednesday, Dec. 14. After that meeting, he said, the board will have determined a finalized list of criteria for the next superintendent and the search process —- one that involves advertising and active recruitment — will begin.

As public input is gathered, students are sharing their thoughts as well. Sean Salisbury, a River Hill High School junior who attended one of the evening sessions Tuesday, Dec. 6, said he was most concerned about the applicants' backgrounds. Those backgrounds, he said, should include working directly with students.

"A lot of people (in education) don't work directly with students in classrooms, which I have a problem with," said Salisbury, 17, who serves as community liaison for his school. "If you're making decisions regarding students, you should, at some point, have been directly involved with students in your career. It's not the degree, it's the experience."

A superintendent must also be engaging as well as experienced, said Dorothy Plantz, interim director of admissions and advising at Howard Community College. She and Wiley both said the new superintendent should be a good administrator as well as a good communicator, and one who will collaborate with the community.

"Where I'm coming from, a great superintendent engages with the entire community," Plantz said. "He or she is that top person, and as they engage their team, it goes down through the system, bringing diverse groups of people, staff and students together on common ground for maximum achievement."

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