Story and photos by staff reporter Nora Drenner
The Natchitoches Parish School Board has completed interviewing 14 candidates for its vacant superintendent position. Current superintendent Dale Skinner leaves in June. Interviews were held in open session over a three- day period from Feb. 19-21. The public was not allowed to ask questions.
Candidates interviewed Feb. 19 were Scott Canady, principal of Saline High School in Jonesboro, La.; Grant Eloi, regional coordinator in Pineville, La.; David Gray, superintendent in Morehouse Parish.; Dr. Curtis Green, school improvement coach/program manager in Atlanta, Ga.; and Theresa Hamilton, senior program specialist in Hammond, La.
Feb. 20 interviewees were Dr. Terrie Johnson, supervisor of high school curriculum, guidance and title II and IV in Bossier City, La.; Eddie Jones, principal of Florien High School in Florien, La.; Brandy Branigan, director of middle magnet and Montessori schools in Pineville, La.; Dr. Paul Nelson, superintendent in Tensas Parish ; and Ted Reeves, superintendent in Union Parish.
Interviewed on Feb. 21 interviewed were Dr. Michael Robinson, senior associate in Thibodaux, La.; James Stroder, Grand County School superintendent in Moab, Utah; Julio Torro, retired principal in Arlington, Tx and formerly of Natchitoches Parish; and Jesse Winston, federal programs/instructional technology director in Bastrop, La.
Interviews with each candidate lasted about one hour with each applicant given 10 minutes for an opening statement, followed by 11 questions to answer, and an eight-minute closing comment.
Candidates were asked about budget experience, increasing dual enrollment and jump start pathways programs, barriers in education and how to overcome them, steps to establish communication and good public relations, their perception of the top three issues in the school district and managing a contracted transportation system.
Also asked was how to improve teacher morale, overcoming differences in test scores in schools within the district, evaluating current leadership positions within the central office, professional development strategies, placing qualified African Americans in leadership roles, diversity training for new teachers, bringing their own support staff, staff retention ideas that did not include an pay increase, keeping kids in school, and creating a culture of continuous improvement in all schools within the district among others.
The set of questions asked each night varied but with a similar theme.
All candidates talked about their leadership skills, the importance of creating a vison; and building positive relationships with students, staff, the board, NSU, businesses within the community, civic organizations and others within the community.
Additionally, all supported restorative discipline rather than punitive to prevent dropouts. Among the restorative discipline strategies offered were after school and Saturday programs for attendance recovery, makeup work and tutoring opportunities.
Also common among the candidates was using data to drive instruction, small group instruction, establishing deliberate goals and objectives for student learning, having an open-door policy, and the importance of collaboration and teamwork within each school and school to school in the district.
“We are all going to rise together or fall together,” commented Dr. Green in his interview. “It takes a coordinated effort,” said Canady during his interview.
Hamilton touted her habits: honesty, attitude, behavior, individuality, teamwork and synergy. Winston offered a six -month plan, while Jones and Lawrence briefly presented a 100-day plan.
Eloi and Dr. Robinson talked about using a servant leadership management style which puts the leader(superintendent and board) at the bottom of the pyramid and the customers (staff and students) at the top.
Gray noted he was a businessman before he became an educator. Dr. Johnson commented she was a military wife and mother, and as a result she taught in rural and urban schools and was exposed to a variety of cultures and populations.
Dr. Nelson said he did have not have all the answers, but he was dedicated and was a good listener. Reeves commented he would not sit in an Ivory tower; instead he would be out visiting schools and getting involved in the community.
Torro said his key to success is doing what is best for students. Stroder noted he saw his relationship with the board as one of teamwork, collaboration and transparency.
No candidates gave the nod to bringing their own support staff, and all candidates touted the importance of diversity training for staff and student achievement was a top priority citing three failing schools in the district.
Redacted copies of superintendent applications can be found on the Natchitoches Parish School Board website at http://www.npsb.la, and the Natchitoches Parish Journal recorded live all interviews which can be viewed online.
The NPSB board will name finalists during a special call meeting on Tuesday, March 3, at 6:15 p.m. A meet and greet is tentatively set for March 10 to allow the public to have a face to face with finalists and ask questions in an informal setting.