Parents, educators and community members had the attention of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education members Wednesday morning, spelling out what they would like to see in the district’s next superintendent.
The forum at Northwest Middle School was the first of five community forums being held by the school board to get input into its search for a superintendent to replace Beverly Emory, who announced in February that she was leaving the district for a job with the state Department of Education.
The school board has hired the North Carolina School Board Association to help with the search and representatives from NCSBA attended Wednesday’s forum.
The association representatives will compile notes from each forum, along with community surveys, and present them at the May 14 school board meeting.
Board Chairwoman Malishai Woodbury said selecting the next superintendent is the most important task board has.
“We encourage community folk to continue to come to the school board meetings and during public comments to come and talk to us about what they see as ideal characteristics and skills that they want in the next superintendent,” she said.
At Wednesday’s forum, at least a dozen attendees had a chance to weigh in individually on what qualities and characteristics the next superintendent should have.
Common themes were experience in school turnaround, closing achievement gaps, creating equity for all students and building connections with the community.
“I do think that we have an issue of feeling that we all are connected to each other and that healing that could not be more vital,” said Elisabeth Motsinger, the only board member who has been through a superintendent search before. “So finding a way for our district to become the place in the community where everybody belongs would be very powerful both for our schools but for our community as a whole.
Some attendees felt the ideal superintendent would come from another comparable district and have a proven track record of turning things around in schools and school districts.
Others felt it would be best to have someone from the area who was familiar with the district and knew its challenges.
“You want someone familiar with the area already, and I think it would just take us back too far — we’re too deep with the issues to start fresh with someone who’s not family with the areas and the disparities,” said Kelly Cason, a parent of two students at Northwest Middle and one at North Forsyth High School.
Travis Watson, who has a student at Northwest Middle and another at Gibson Elementary School, said he hopes the next superintendent is someone who is transparent with the public and can admit fault when things don’t go well, then work to fix them.
“Someone with the wherewithal to say OK, I don’t know it all,” he said. “The biggest piece that I think the superintendent should have is the ability to follow until he can lead.”
A parent said it was important for a superintendent to live in the community they serve, which struck a chord with Woodbury. She said in her time as an educator — most recently as a school turnaround specialist — it was not uncommon for superintendents and other education administrators to live outside their districts.
“But I know that that may sound small in the scheme of the characteristics and skills, but it resonated with me because I think if the superintendent sees this as their home, they’ll be that much more invested,” Woodbury said.