Parents Express Preferences for Next Northampton Superintendent

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By Stefanie Jackson – When the Northampton school board held a public hearing Tuesday on its search for a new superintendent, parents and other community members learned that the process to hire a superintendent, as determined by state law and the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA), might not be as transparent as they would prefer.

School board chair Charlena Jones opened the public hearing and invited those present to share what qualifications they want a superintendent to have.

Ericka Willke, of Cape Charles, said that if the superintendent has children, they should attend the county’s public schools, and school board members should be held to the same standard.

Nancy Proto, also of Cape Charles, said the new superintendent should have a doctorate degree and experience analyzing educational data and problem-solving.

Victoria Daniels, of Machipongo, said the superintendent should have lived in Northampton County for at least one year, be familiar with local weather conditions and how they affect travel on secondary roads, and demonstrate a good relationship with the community by visiting individual schools and community events.

Terry Custis, of Nassawadox, added that the right candidate will have a vision for the community and possess good values and moral character.

Bill O’Hare said the superintendent should recognize untapped skill and talent in the community and give older retirees the chance to volunteer in schools. 

Members of the public also were permitted to ask questions about the search process.

Proto was the first to speak and asked how the community will be involved. Jones noted the two methods of public involvement recommended by VSBA already had been implemented: a survey and the public hearing currently in session.

This did not appear to satisfy several citizens in attendance, who further questioned the process.

O’Hare asked how the survey data would be analyzed and if the analysis would be publicized; Jones said the school board would request that information from VSBA.

Willke asked if the public ever had been directly involved in choosing a school superintendent.

School board member Jo Ann Molera explained that according to Virginia code, a school board basically has three jobs: forming school division policy, setting the budget, and hiring a superintendent. These are the jobs the school board is elected to do, school board member William Oakley later added.

Molera said VSBA has a “very thorough process” for finding superintendents, and after VSBA eliminates applicants who lack the qualifications required by the state, “the rest is up to us.”

Jones explained that the public is not allowed to be directly involved in the selection process to protect the privacy of the job candidates, whose current positions may be negatively impacted if it was known that they were applying for a new position elsewhere.

Yuridia Lynch, of Machipongo, was concerned that the search process lacked transparency. Willke asked how anyone will know if the school board implements public input in its decision-making process.

“Respectfully, you’re going to have to trust us,” Jones said.

Lynch asked if the public could be informed about the job candidates without revealing their identities; for example, listing the candidates’ qualifications and labeling each A, B, C, D. However, that is not how VSBA’s superintendent search process is conducted, the school board explained.

Suzanne Conrow cautioned school board members that a superintendent “could look awesome on paper,” but they also need to know if the candidate has a good relationship with the community. This could be determined by talking to people including PTA members, parents, and church members. “It’s not hard to do research,” she said.

Jones noted that any recommendations for candidates for superintendent should not be made to the school board but to VSBA’s executive director, Gina Patterson. She can be reached by emailing [email protected] or calling 434-295-8722.

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