Superintendent hopefuls discuss plans, experience

The three finalists for Richmond County schools superintendent say they feel they have the experience and know-how to run the system effectively.

In interviews with The Augusta Chronicle on Friday, two candidates gave their thoughts on how they would approach the job: Dr. Frank Roberson, the superintendent of Marlboro County School District in Bennetts­ville, S.C., and Dr. Roy "Cole" Pugh, who retired in June as superintendent of the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dr. Faron Hollinger, who retired April 1 as superintendent of Baldwin County Public Schools in Bay Minette, Ala., declined the newspaper's request, saying he's still awaiting a follow-up interview with the board members and would prefer to detail his plans for the system with them first.

1. What plans do you have to help improve the Richmond County school system?

Dr. Frank Roberson: "I would like to see, as my first order of business, being to meet with the school board in a strategy session-type atmosphere and chart the course for those things that board members see as immediate needs or concerns or ambitions or goals that they would like for us to move forward either to initiate or to improve upon. I would envision that we would come away with several prioritized goals and objectives to move forward with. And the other part of that ... is to engage in a similar type session with school-based people, the principals to teachers, and then of course the parents and the community."

Dr. Roy "Cole" Pugh: "One of the things I discussed with the board during the interview process was an entry plan. And I would like to meet with board members individually, meet with the central office people who report to the superintendent, talk to some principals, other employees, teachers for sure, students, and then go to the community and talk to some parents and business people. And during those visits I would like to ask what things each individual person believes the strengths of the district are and the areas that might be in need of improvement. ... There would need to be plans to improve student achievement, and also look at facilities and other areas ... and also the current communication plan that might be in place."

2. What areas do you feel are running smoothly in the Richmond County school system, and how would you continue that success?

Dr. Frank Roberson: "I've been extremely impressed with the operation of the board in terms of the committee-based system. ... I notice that in the academic area, the reading progress appears to be in very, very good shape, on target. Students are reading well in elementary grades, and I see that moving on through the middle grades as we look at the achievement data on Richmond County in comparison to other districts that are similar. The one area that would need to be given some attention is what's happening with mathematics achievement, and that is something that we can look very, very closely at to see what adjustments need to be made, and generally teachers will have their fingers on exactly what the issues are. So, I would rely on that expertise."

Dr. Roy "Cole" Pugh: "I know that the board feels like in the last few years there's been good progress made, and you always want to when you determine the strengths of a district, continue those things that people think are strengths. At the same time, develop plans to improve on those areas that might need improvements. Of course, that involves talking to people, but also looking at data on how students are performing in other areas of district operations. So, I feel like the district is moving in the right direction. It would just be a matter of continuing the things that are working well and then developing plans to improve those that are not. I know there's quite a few campuses that have not made AYP (adequate yearly progress), so there would need to be some looking at steps that could be taken to improve the achievement of all students and then trying to close achievement gaps among the subgroups in the district."

3. What would be your first action as superintendent if selected for the job?

Dr. Frank Roberson: "My first action would be to be out there among the teachers and the students and the administration on the very first day. I see myself in the schools on the very first day, very first week, and of course on a very regular basis thereafter. I'm a hands-on person, and I like to be involved and connecting with those who are working closely with the students, which is our purpose of being there. ... So, the schools will be an extension of my office, in essence."

Dr. Roy "Cole" Pugh: "It would be to implement the entry plan that I just discussed. I think that's a great way to get to know a lot of people in a short period of time, start communicating with people in a district and, at the same time, they get to meet the new superintendent and learn more about him."

4. Why do you think your past experience makes you a good candidate to be the leader of Richmond County schools?

Dr. Frank Roberson: "My experience is basically working in education and working with people and working well with people and being able to get things done in concert recognizing the strengths in people and establishing a focus so that we can build a quality education system for our students. I think all of those things over the years have simply matured and I ... hope to put all of my talents and knowledge in place to move Richmond County schools toward a status of world-class education."

Dr. Roy "Cole" Pugh: "I have worked in districts with different characteristics. I've been superintendent in districts that have ethnic diversity and also that had maybe student performance that was not where they wanted it to be. And there were larger than acceptable gaps among subgroups. I've worked in districts that had facility issues, financial issues. So, as I look at Richmond County, I don't see anything there that I haven't experienced before as the superintendent, and I think those past experiences would be an asset to Richmond County."

5. Are there any changes you would make to the system?

Dr. Frank Roberson: "It would be premature for me to speculate at the moment because I'm a data-driven individual and would like to really, really study firsthand what is in place and what that looks like and whether or not it's getting the results that we should be receiving. Also, relying very heavily, as I mentioned earlier, on the views and perspectives and perceptions of the school board members and also the community as a whole. And most definitely the teachers, because they know firsthand what's happening. There's another group that I would involve in assessing things: the students themselves."

Dr. Roy "Cole" Pugh: "As you assess the strengths and areas in need of improvement, I've always found that people will tell you areas that they want to improve on, and there's an old saying that the system is perfectly set up to achieve the results that it's currently experiencing. So, if you want better results, then you have to do something a little bit differently. I would want to look at specifically the alignment of the curriculum of the district, the quality of the written curriculum, the quality of the materials provided to instructional personnel."

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